My Music. My Story. is one of Classical Music Indy’s initiatives to feature music, musicians, and music lovers in a fun way. Christina Summers, from Christel House Academy, has a background in theater and education. Read below to hear Christina’s thoughts on how music affects her life, the importance of arts in education, and why students should have opportunities to be creative.
Christina Summers: My Music. My Story.
What is your favorite kind of music and why?
I really enjoy listening to alt-country, like Dwight Yoakam, Justin Townes Earle, Wilco, the Old 97s, and Lucinda Williams. Last spring I traveled to Dallas, Texas (the hometown of the Old 97s) for a day-long music festival they put on, and was introduced to some new singers, such as Robert Ellis and Nikki Lane.
Growing up in southern Indiana, there are a lot of country music stations. My sister and I shared a bedroom, and she loved country music, but at that time I was into REM, the Violent Femmes, Nirvana, all of the great 90s music! We argued a lot about the music we played in our room.
I’ve found sort of a middle ground, now as an adult. It reminds me of home, but still has a bit of an edge to it. A little rowdy sometimes, and a little sentimental other times. I just find it’s what speaks to me.
Although, right now our house is really into the Hamilton soundtrack! It’s great to bring a really fun and modern take on history to my kids. We’ve all learned so much about the history surrounding the other founding fathers. We literally cannot stop listening to it!
What does music mean to you?
I love the storytelling of music, no matter the genre. In my time as a performer, many years ago, I loved that I was able to share someone else’s stories with others. It’s also what draws me into my job. I love meeting new people and hearing about their experiences in school and life and just getting to know them, even for a few minutes. Everyone’s life is fascinating and unique.
I love music that tells a good and authentic story.
How has music influenced your life?
I love hearing an old song and remembering its place in my past. When I was a kid we listened to my dad’s old Beatles records, so those bring back some great memories. Pop music from the 80s always reminds me of summer time and spending the day at the pool. Or, songs that my kids listened to over and over and over when they were little…the songs that drove me crazy then, I love to hear now and remember my kids being so tiny. Every period of life has a different soundtrack, and it’s fun remembering where music fit into it, and what it says about where I was in my journey at that time.
How has music influenced your work in the field of education?
The arts were how I got my start in education. I have a B.A. in theatre from Franklin College, and an M.A. in English with a specialization in theatre from Indiana State University. I taught theatre at ISU and at a private school here in Indianapolis. Once my children came along I wanted a change of pace for my family so I transitioned out of teaching, but stayed in education.
What is your favorite instrument? Have you ever played it?
I played the trumpet for seven years in junior high and high school, and had so much fun! As a kid, I sort of knew about the trumpet from Chicago songs (my dad was a big fan) and from the Smurfs…I think one of the Smurfs played a horn of some kind. In sixth grade, our band teacher brought in different instruments each week so we could try them out and decide what we wanted to play. I just fell in love with the trumpet as soon as I saw it! I loved the sound, the shape, just everything about it. I played until I left for college, but haven’t played since. I found one once, years later, and tried to play but couldn’t get a single sound out!
I also love listening to the banjo and mandolin, but don’t play either. The church I used to attend had one Sunday each month with banjo, mandolin, and washboard playing the hymns. It was my absolute favorite day of the month! There’s nothing like listening to some good hymns played by those instruments.
Do you think students enjoy being able to have classes in the arts?
Without a doubt! Our kids work hard in school each and every day, working on reading, math, social studies, science, etc. The arts provide a way of learning that can be more hands-on, using their bodies and minds in totally different ways.
How do you think the arts benefit a student’s education?
There’s so much research showing the benefits of the arts on students’ education. All of the arts really encompass the subjects students are studying in their other classrooms, such as reading, math, and science, and teach valuable critical thinking skills.
My education is in theatre and one of my first teaching jobs was leading a group of undergraduate students at Indiana State University in teaching theatre classes at a juvenile detention center. Most of the youths in the detention center didn’t have much confidence in their academic abilities. The one classroom teacher they had was a licensed special education teacher. So, even though they weren’t all special education students, that’s sort of how they saw themselves. But that didn’t stop my student teachers from challenging them and showing them how much they were capable of.
One of my student teachers brought in a scene from Death of a Salesman one afternoon, and it was incredible to see how the teens handled it. Some of them had a difficult time following the story and what was happening, but then their peers jumped right in and broke it down for them and explained it in a way that everyone got it! I’ll never forget that day.
Any other stories or thoughts on music and education?
I feel lucky to work for a network of schools that places so much value on exposing students to the arts. Each of our Academies offers students instrument lessons and bands/orchestras to play in, choirs, and visual arts classes. Last summer our DORS program (a school for adults 18 and older that want to earn a high school diploma) had a show of student art hanging at Calvin Fletcher’s Coffee Company.
We partner with Classical Music Indy for their amazing after school program. Indianapolis School of Ballet leads after school clubs and offers scholarships to students that show promise in dance. My own children attend Christel House Academy, and we’ve had opportunities to take music lessons and ballet classes that would have been really difficult, if not impossible, for our family to provide without these programs.