Senior Reflects: Carly Morton and the Power of Music Education

Carly with family at her graduation.

Carly Morton, a recent Music Education graduate from Burlington County, shares her meditation on her passion for music and the value of her student teaching experience at Washington Township High School.

Carly Morton’s inclination for music has always been a prevalent aspect in her life. During elementary school, Carly began playing the flute; however, it wasn’t until high school that she began to truly understand the realm that captivated her interests. In particular, Carly was inspired to pursue the aspect of teaching music education by her high school band director. 

“He provided a family-based atmosphere at a high school level. I never experienced that in any other club or activity,” she shares. “It was really great because he made a very solid and tight-knit community, which provided students with a home base. It inspired me to want to create that in my students’ lives as well.”

Carly with Mike Lynch.
Carly (left) with D. Michael Lynch, Cherokee High School Marching and Concert Band Director

In high school, Carly made the transition from flute to French horn in order to assume the needed position. This shift would prove to be beneficial as it would earn her a full scholarship at Rowan University. 

“It was a lot of work and a lot of hours just sitting in a room by myself. I think that’s really where I grew discipline as a musician to learn an instrument at such a late stage of your life. When I was auditioning for state ensembles, there were kids that had been playing the French horn since they were four or five years old. For me to come in at age 14 and learn a new instrument all of a sudden, I knew I needed to keep up,” she says.

“I began private lessons with one of the other instructors. We didn’t really have a lot of money growing up, so it was a difficult situation because I couldn’t afford my own French horn since they were about $5,000. I had to use a school model instead,” she explains. “I couldn’t afford private lessons so I worked out a deal where I babysat his kids and received lessons throughout the summer. I worked part-time throughout high school at a diner, so I had to be really disciplined in the way that I spent my time. It was a lot, but when it was my first year officially playing, I made it onto All-South Jersey and First Chair. The French horn is a very intricate instrument and it’s not very commonly used. I knew that if I just kept pushing that I would eventually get a scholarship.” 

Students in Music Education begin by observing and working in public schools as early as sophomore year. The program culminates with experienced educators and musicians completing a student teaching experience in order to begin a career in teaching music.

“The last semester gives you a great experience of what it feels like to be a teacher. For myself, it helped me realize that I want to do this for the rest of my life. You also have to have a certain maturity level to handle problems that aren’t necessarily brought by the classroom so you have to adapt to your environment. It was great getting that experience at Washington Township.”

Carly conducts Washington Township orchestra.
Carly (front, center) conducts during her student teaching experience at Washington Township High School

Carly credits her mentor at Washington Township High School, Calvin Spencer, as a big influence and one her favorite teachers she got to work with. “In my situation, Mr. Spencer gave me every single class and let me teach these classes for a couple of weeks straight. It allowed me to think more long-term of what it looks like to create a unit in music theory or to prepare a piece for a concert, which is ideal because I want to be in a high school position. He really set me up for success,” she says. 

“If I could sum up my experience at Washington Township, I would say that it is life changing. For our entire lives, we don’t know why we’re in school. We often ask why and no one gives us the correct answer. In my experience, when you get to college, you still have a little bit of that left in you, but my experience at Washington Township showed me why I went through school or had difficult experiences. It’s because of now,” she adds. 

“I realized that I am on Earth to be a music teacher, to be in front of students, to lead and be inspired by them, and be motivated by their personalities and love for music. I find so much fulfillment from seeing them learn, not seeing the product that they can produce. That aha moment is what fuels me and I feel lucky to have that in this life. I’ve found my purpose by getting the experience of student teaching because I realized that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.” 

Carly poses with Dr. Joseph Higgins.
Carly (right) at her graduation with Dr. Joseph Higgins, Associate Professor and Director of Bands

Carly’s passion for music is deeply rooted in her avocation for its personal relevance to students’ lives. She believes that students’ experiences are overlooked due to their youth, but that this stage is critical for learning concepts such as relationships, time management and friendships. Carly says that by giving students access to music classes at an early age, they are given the ability to learn life lessons in association. 

“Students understand that if they want to be good at something then they will need to practice. They learn that in order to practice they may have to take off work, tell their family or friends about rehearsals, or show up to practice 30 minutes early to be set up when the downbeat happens. There’s also relationships because you’re with these people everyday and you have to learn to treat others with respect. If someone makes you upset, you have to learn how to talk to them and address that issue. I didn’t learn that in math or English because those people weren’t my friends, but I had friends in the band program where I felt at home,” she states.

As an educator, Carly’s concern is not only in ensuring students’ learning, but also establishing their importance as individuals. With this foundation, she builds and strengthens her relationship with her students to promote their academic and personal success. 

“One of the life lessons that you learn from being in music is that you are important to this world and the environment around you. A lot of kids get overlooked because they might not be as athletic or smart, but in music you matter. If you are putting out sounds, you do matter. Every single person needs to participate and put forth some effort in order to get the outcome they want. You begin to see people as important members of society that contribute to the overall sound. It’s important that people understand the relevance of their lives and what they put out as a whole.”

Carly poses with Dr. Adrian Barnes.
Carly (left) poses at commencement with Dr. Adrian Barnes, Assistant Professor and Co-Coordinator of Music Education (Instrumental)

In order to champion such principles, Carly utilizes responsibility in a manner that encourages independence.

“I believe in giving students the opportunity to rise up and lead themselves by example,” she shares. “I step back and encourage them to teach themselves in a practice room for 15 minutes or lead a sectional. It gives the kids the opportunity to make relationships which makes them play better and to lead themselves. This does not come from a teacher or professor, but from the inside. It’s the intrinsic motivation that allows them to say, ‘I want to be here because I want to contribute.’ Also, giving them those opportunities to be more student led makes the ensemble sound better.” 

Rowan University offered Carly a foundation to pursue a career in Music Education. She reflects on her education, sharing anecdotes of her experiences and its value to her as a recent graduate. 

“The experience of working and learning at Rowan was amazing. I think the environment is great for Music Education majors. It’s not too big where you’re just a number and you don’t get that one-on-one professor experience, but it’s also not too small where you feel like you’re in high school again.”

Carly at commencement.

When asked to impart advice to incoming freshmen who want to pursue the same path, Carly responds: “Be honest with yourself and work hard. If you are honest with yourself and you realize music is not for you, you should understand that it’s okay and continue searching for what you want to do. If you come and decide that you want to do this, then you have to work hard.

“The opportunities at Rowan are plentiful. Talk to your professors and get to know them. Once you graduate, you will have those relationships, but you’re not going to see them everyday or go to class with them anymore. Don’t take for granted the people you’re experiencing and living life with while you’re there. 

“The last thing would be to truly try to be the best version of yourself. We’re all in the same boat together. You’re experiencing how to deal with people, how to manage your time, and learning how to say no. Everyone’s in there together, so don’t think that you don’t know what you’re doing because I’m sure you do.” 

See our video with Carly here:

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Story by:
Jessica Nguyen, elementary education graduate