This article was written by a journalism student, Emily Cook.
“In Boston, I was a director of an after-school music program. We had 130 families, all Hispanic, so there’s Spanish speaking in the classroom. It was that extra challenge that made it really fun to take private lessons.”
Christiana Athena-Blackwell grew up in Vermont and graduated from U-32 and she got her PhD in music education at Penn State. At U-32, she teaches chorus, guitar, exploring and creating music, and will soon be teaching production and songwriting.
When Christiana was only eight years old, her mom took her to the Governor’s Institute of the Arts, a program usually reserved only for high schoolers. She attended a variety of classes but quickly fell in love with an African music and dance class. Because of that class, she got really into dancing and drumming. “There are a lot of African musicians based in Burlington so I just started studying with private lessons and taking classes,” she said. “My dad is a drumset player so he gave me lessons starting at eleven.” Around the same time, she started piano and Suzuki.
When Christiana was in high school she took a class with a student-directed rock band that performed rock songs for the public. This class was taught by Roger Grow, the old chorus teacher whose position Christiana is in now. “That gave me a lot of confidence to start writing my own music,” she said. “Since I was 15 years old, I’ve been in bands performing.”
After moving back to her home in Vermont, she ran into Ellen Cooke, her school counselor when she was a student at U-32, at the Hunger Mountain Co-op. Christiana told Ellen that she had just gotten her PhD in Music Education and Ellen told her about a position that opened up at U-32. “It was super serendipitous and lucky to run into Ellen because I knew Roger Gow,” said Christiana. “It was very meaningful to me.”
She had always been naturally inclined to work with kids and play music so she made the decision to do both. “It brings me a lot of joy and I like to inspire people to have fun with music and to express themselves,” she said. “So I see it more as an avenue for creativity and when I can spark that in others I just love seeing that happen.”
Christiana is a multi-instrumentalist and singer. She is looking forward to applying those skills to her teaching and said, “When you’re a multi-instrumentalist, you can almost do anything. I can teach Band, I can teach strings, or go to choir, so it’s important to be versatile and open-minded.”
Christiana believes in the importance of music and that it can have a huge effect on the world and other people. “It’s like an expression of humanity, and allows us to tap into thoughts and feelings that we maybe can’t verbally express or verbally acknowledge, but when we can listen or we can sing together, we can flame instruments together.”