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New AHS choral director: With a song in her heart

Mara Walker, AHS choral director, September 2019.Mara Walker: First-day photo at AHS.Mara Walker’s love for music is evident the second she hears the question every music lover finds difficult to answer: What is your favorite kind?


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Immediately, the new director of choral music at Arlington High School begins to answer that she loves all types of music, as is expected from a music educator, but her answer screams truthfulness compared to the average song consumer who might listen to three genres of music at most.

Walker explains how she is able to appreciate the unique origin and path of every genre, from medieval chants to modern pop.

In a life filled with music, it is no surprise that Walker has been able to find individuality in many genres and students.

Mara Noelle Walker grew up in North Carolina, where sher was home-schooled and already exposed to and surrounded by music.

“Music has always been a large part of my life,” she said, discussing her childhood in an interview with YourArlington.

Began in church

She began singing in her local Baptist church as young as 2 years old. Walker transitioned to attending her local high school at the start of the ninth grade. That year, she joined the school’s chorus and immediately fell in love with the ensemble. It was the first time she had received formal training, and she passionately participated in all events and honor choirs available to her.

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Upcoming events:


-- At 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24, in the Arlington High School Lowe Auditorium, the annual ACATpella Festival includes a performance by the AHS Madrigal Singers with other musical groups from greater Boston. Tickets, at $20 per person, are available on-line >>  Proceeds will benefit the Sarcoma Foundation of America and the Catherine J. Malatesta Foundation.


-- At 7 p.m. March 11 in the Lowe Auditorium, the Arlington All-Town Chorus Concert will include performances by all of the Arlington High School choirs. Quote bar, red

When determining what career path to follow, Walker was at first conflicted. Until the beginning of her senior year, she had planned to pursue dentistry in college and beyond, assuming that her late introduction to formal training was a wall between her and a possible career in music.

In actuality, Walker had a strong passion for music: She loved sharing music with others, had many positive experiences with music and strongly believed in the many studied benefits of music (and still does today). In hopes of finding a way to pursue the path she was most passionate about, Walker spoke to her chorus teacher, who was confident in her capability to major in music and helped set her up with auditions.

Going into college, Walker felt overwhelmed by how little she knew about classical music, given that she mainly grew up surrounded by pop, country and church music. However unfamiliar the genre was to her, she loved the style nonetheless and found performing and conducting ensembles to be one of her passions.

'Life-changing experience'

Walker received her bachelor's degree in music education as a voice major at Lenoir-Rhyne University, a private liberal-arts college in Hickory, N.C.

She later received her master's of music education (choral conducting) at Florida State University through its three-summer program, in which two summers were spent on the Tallahassee campus and one summer -- this past -- was spent on the FSU London campus.

She attended courses taught by FSU’s talented music professors, leading to her studying choral conducting with Dr. André Thomas, a distinguished American conductor, composer and clinician.

Walker described this as a “truly life-changing program and experience.”

After college, Walker’s long-range goal was to conduct high-level choirs. Teaching high school chorus changed her tune: She loved the family atmosphere cultivated with her students, and seeing students grow musically.

“Choral music is a perfect outlet for students to express creativity and emotions, find friends and build relationships, gain confidence, communication and leadership skills, and share meaningful experiences with peers in a welcoming environment,” she said.

For six years, she taught at Freedom High School in Morganton, N.C., alma mater of Sam J. Ervin IV, whose grandfather served on the Watergate Committee, which heard charges brought against President Nixon.

Walker moved to Providence, R.I., last August. While her husband began a Ph.D. program at Brown University, Walker planned to find a position conducting and teaching chorus at a high school. The process was very fast-paced, and after she was interviewed by Arlington High School -- the only school she interviewed for -- she was offered the job, which she gladly accepted. Her choral work includes directing the Bella Voce, Combined Choirs, Concert Choir, Chorale and the Madrigal Singers.

AHS musical culture

While the drive may be long, Walker does not mind. Why? Because of Arlington High School’s strong musical culture. That drew Walker in the first place, and she wants to continue setting a high musical bar for students. One way to reach that goal is by taking the choral students to more festivals and competitions.

In addition to nurturing the musical strength of the students, she has also set a goal to continue to nurture and cultivate a culture of community, positivity, passion, and creativity among the choral students that will inspire them to continue seeking out musical experiences throughout their lives.

Walker’s positive musical experiences influence the passion she has for providing students with positive musical experiences: “My goal every day is to create a bright, positive classroom atmosphere for my students that teaches them something new and causes them to leave smiling and singing.”


Dec. 12, 2019: AHS Winter Concert held

Aug. 6, 2019: SING OUT: New choral director at Arlington High


This news feature by YourArlington intern Ella Gomes was published Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020.

 

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