Aurelia Dochnal ’19 got to know professional musician and Elementary School Music Teacher Ms. Melody Tibbits Zanecchia, who was recognized as a Khan-Page Master Teacher in 2019.
When did you start at TASIS, and what grades do you teach in the Elementary School?
I started the fall of 2013. Prior to that I had worked in the TASIS Summer Programs since 2009, so I was familiar with TASIS before I started as a full-time Academic Year teacher. My first two years I taught Pre-K through fifth grade, and then starting in 2015 I continued with just first through fifth grade.
Can you please describe your educational background and your career in education prior to TASIS?
I pursued my education in a different way than most. I first went to Central Michigan University for Music Education for one year. Then I realized my chance to move to California and pursue my dreams was “now or never,” so I went to California Pacific College of the Performing Arts, which is the college associated with the performing and teaching company The Young Americans. I studied and performed with this company for six years before I finished my Music Education degree at California State Long Beach.
|Elementary music education is all about creativity, cooperation, exploration, and fun—with an emphasis on fun. During these early years, students should be enjoying their learning so much that they look forward to each day of school.|
When I was part of The Young Americans, we traveled the world and learned how to teach music in a classroom setting or in an arena setting. That really shaped me as a teacher, giving me the ability to think on my feet and be spontaneous but also develop necessary forethought: to think about all the aspects my students would need to be successful in an assessment or a performance.
My now husband and I once traveled to Malawi, Africa, to teach music in a classroom there. That was an incredible experience. As you can imagine, it was such a different environment than here at TASIS or in other classrooms I’d taught in in the US, Europe, or Asia. It was an amazing opportunity that really shaped the way I taught before I came here.
Can you briefly describe your teaching philosophy?
Yes! I think this is so important—I’m really happy you asked! Elementary music education is all about creativity, cooperation, exploration, and fun—with an emphasis on fun. During these early years, students should be enjoying their learning so much that they look forward to each day of school. At least I hope they do! These things are built upon an organized classroom and curriculum, framed with high expectations, respect given and received, and positive relationships.
I believe all children are capable of music learning. The whole child should be engaged in this process. We do this by using instruments, movement, dance, theory, singing, listening and analyzing, and working individually and as a team to create music.
I want to spur on a lifelong love of music and base the learning we do in the classroom on that because I think all the skills we learn in music go far beyond the walls of the music classroom.
What do you like most about working at TASIS?
I really love the relationships I’m able to create with my students and my colleagues. I think that’s the most special thing about TASIS, and there are a lot of special things! I mean, we get to work in this incredibly beautiful place surrounded by mountains and rolling hills, and you can see the lake from campus—it’s amazing. But most important are the relationships we build together as a community, teacher to student and teacher to teacher. It’s very special.
I also appreciate the environment of support and exploration I feel here as a teacher. I feel that my administrators are very open to my new and crazy ideas. If I have the craziest idea for the next performance or show or assembly, everyone’s on board, they trust me, and they say, “That sounds great! You have our full support!” Anytime help is needed, everyone gets on board and lends a hand.
What would you say has been your greatest achievement at TASIS?
The Elementary School Christmas Concert each year is one of my top priorities. I really am proud of the work the students do in the first semester to prepare for that concert. I try to implement an instrument in each grade level as well as their singing because I think both are so important for the kids. When they’re doing both at the same time, it’s even better.
One specific instance also comes to mind. There was a girl who was really afraid of singing alone and she was taking private voice lessons from me. In a recital, she became so terrified while she was singing onstage that she ran off the stage in the middle of the song. And I remember thinking, “What do I do in this scenario?” I want to make sure the audience is comfortable, but most importantly I want to make sure she is comfortable and has the support she needs to come back on stage and try it again. I know these situations can stick with you for life. So, in the middle of the show, I followed her out the door and had a brief conversation with her about how much her parents, teachers, friends and I believed in her and how important it was for her to feel enough support to get back on stage and do it again. And she did. The audience stood and gave her a standing ovation at the end for her performance because of the courage she showed. That, I think, is a perfect example of what is so important about music and performing arts in students’ lives.
Your love for music is famous around campus. Could you describe your musical career outside of school, such as your work with Melody Tibbits & The Cade?
I really love being a part of the local community through performing with my band because I see a different aspect of Lugano than I would otherwise. Our band does a lot of private gigs like weddings, parties, and other events, but we also do some open-air festivals in the summer. I get to see the fun-loving side of the Ticinese that just want to come out and enjoy some live music, but I also get to see the sacred ceremonies of weddings here and how they do special events. Also, last year and this year I got to record and perform with a Swiss band, Gotthard, and experience how Swiss musicians are in the studio and onstage.
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