There's a good reason why Clare Ingolia feels so attached to David Brunner's composition "Circles of Our Lives."
The piece is a standard selection for mixed choirs of all sorts, including ensembles at the middle- and high-school level. Ingolia, the vocal music teacher at Laredo Middle School, has drawn on the music several times, leading her students through its easy tempo and lilting melodies.
But Ingolia has deeper ties to the work. Its lyrics explore life's recurring patterns, the forms and structures that pop up again and again over the course of decades. Ingolia sees a connection to her own life's work, a teaching career that's brought her back to her former middle school and her childhood community.
Ingolia attended Cherry Creek schools growing up, progressing through Indian Ridge Elementary School, Laredo Middle School and finally Smoky Hill High School before going on to college in Stockton, California. Returning to the district as a teacher represents a long-held goal for the Colorado native.
"I have a lot of circles in my life," Ingolia said during a short break from guiding her students through new pieces of music earlier this month. "I feel like I was destined to be here, to teach here … I knew I wanted to come back."
“I feel like I was destined to be here, to teach here … I knew I wanted to come back.”
-- Laredo Middle School Choir Teacher Clare Ingolia, on teaching at her old school.
Coming back to teach music holds a deep value for Ingolia, who started teaching in the district six years ago. As she joins her peers throughout the district in celebrating national Music In Our Schools month, Ingolia points to the myriad benefits that come from learning music at an early age. The discipline holds value for all students, she insists, not just for those planning to continue in the field in college or beyond.
"Music is so important to our curriculum, because it teaches kids how to be better people," Ingolia said. "You teach math through music, you teach science and vocal health. We teach about note reading, time signatures and different languages. It's physical education when they're learning how to stand and fine tune their vocal muscles to create the right pitches.
"Really, it's character education," she added, referring to the lessons that come in learning to work with a larger ensemble.
Properly conveying all of those lessons isn't always simple or straightforward. Since starting as a music teacher six years ago, Ingolia has learned important guidelines about teaching vocal music to middle school students. It's a time when voices are in flux and changes come quickly. Tailoring her teaching style specifically to the Laredo population has been one of the most challenging and exciting parts of Ingolia's job.
"The best thing I've learned is to just really know your students and know where their voices are, then pick appropriate music for them," Ingolia said. "It's also knowing that if they need to switch parts, they need to switch parts. I'm always checking in with the kids about how they're feeling about their voices on a specific day."
Ingolia has drawn on the expertise of her colleagues in the district to help streamline her teaching style. She works closely with fellow choir teachers at nearby middle schools, and even works as a music director for musical productions at Smoky Hill High School. She's part of a professional network that includes accomplished musicians and instructors like Prairie Middle School choir teacher Philip Drozda.
Being a part of the district's community of musicians and teachers has had a profound effect on Ingolia's teaching style, and that impacts the everyday instruction of students like Olivia Williams, an eighth-grader who's studied with Ingolia since she started classes at Laredo. Williams said she's developed a strong love for vocal music and performance, and looks forward to pursuing the art form at Smoky Hill.
"Mrs. Ingolia is really good at developing different strategies for the way different people learn," Williams said. "She's helped me learn the solfege (singing syllable system), and we learn the music faster. We're always improving."
Those strategies have helped Williams and her classmates appreciate all the best parts of music even more. They're assets that brought Ingolia back to her old middle school and keeps the discipline interesting year after year.
"Music is something that really helps me. No matter what, it's always there," Williams said. "It's a universal language and it speaks to everyone."