Monday, Feb. 13, 2017
Life Before TC:
Ashley Chambers’ first encounter with a musical instrument wasn’t the most auspicious. As an elementary student, Ashley became inspired by some friends who could tap the keys of a piano and make real music happen. “I just wanted to play like them, so badly,” she recalls. So her parents signed Ashley and her sister up for lessons on the pedal organ – which turned out to be an instrument neither of them felt particularly inspired by. “It was a bit harder,” Ashley recalls.
“My sister and I did not enjoy those lessons, and my parents strongly encouraged us to practice.”
Over time, the Chambers sisters made the switch to piano, and finally the musical magic was there. “After that, my parents didn’t have to say, ‘Go practice, Ashley,’ because I was doing it on my own. And I grew to love it,” she recalls. Of course, you can’t play piano in the school band, so in middle school Ashley took up the saxophone at her father’s suggestion (he had played the sax as a student), and she soon found yet another instrument to love. In high school, she played with the York College Blue Notes, a group of New York City public high school students who participate in the Summer Jazz Institute sponsored by the College Now program at CUNY’s York College.
Ashley studied jazz saxophone at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in Manhattan. She loved performing, but also realized that she loved teaching others to appreciate music as much as she did. In high school, she began giving piano lessons to the son of a family friend out of a practice room at Zen Masters, Inc., her parents’ martial arts studio in Queens. While performing with the York College Blue Notes, she says, “I was part of a musical family, and I wanted to be able to give people back that experience.” TC seemed like the perfect place to get the teaching experience that would help her share her passion, especially with children.
At TC, Ashley says she has found the kind of collaborative community she didn’t necessarily find as an undergraduate, where she felt the atmosphere was a bit too competitive. “I feel like we have a family here, a community of people who always share thoughts and ideas and give advice and help,” she says. Last summer, she traveled to China with a group of students and Associate Prof. of Music Education Randall Allsup, where she found working with Chinese music students both challenging and rewarding. “We had to overcome different battles,” she says. “There was the language barrier, and our styles of music were very different. I learned a lot from that trip, not only musically, but more generally as a person,” she says.
Ashley has now amassed 22 students (including her mom) at her own Keiko Studios, and soon hopes to expand her music school into a new space and hire additional teachers who can offer lessons on multiple instruments. She credits her parents for their continual support of her musical efforts – something she fully recognizes every student does not always get – even if it meant insisting she practice on the pedal organ. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be doing music,” she says. “They encouraged me from the beginning.” —Ellen Livingston
Originally published Wednesday, May. 18, 2016, in the Teachers College Newsroom.
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