Music, Creativity, and Community: Luis Ingels

Passion. Ambition. Hard work. People who have loved and supported him into who he has become. These are all ingredients that make up Luis Ingels, an alumni of the Music Education program at Teachers College. As a first generation graduate from high school, college, and graduate school, Luis’ accomplishments are a mix of all of those ingredients. His first experience as a teacher began when he was in kindergarten and would help his parents learn English. He then became his own teacher as he began to learn clarinet in school and taught himself additional instruments, expanding his musical range.

Luis joined band in middle school, picking up his dad’s old clarinet which “just fit me really well.” But for Luis, band wasn’t just a class in school; it was community. “Band was basically the only reason I went to school.” His band directors became mentors, impacting Luis in deep ways. They entrusted him with more and more responsibility, including leadership positions such as assisting the new high school band director learn the ropes of marching band, teaching his former middle school band camp for many years, and taking the position of drum major for both junior and senior year of high school.

Since he grew up in a small town, Luis wanted to go to college somewhere a bit bigger. He chose University of California, Santa Cruz because “it was far enough away that I could be away from my parents, but still go visit them.” He majored in music (Clarinet performance), dabbled in education through giving music lessons and taking a few education courses, in addition to being part of the founding faculty of an El Sistema afterschool program in a nearby public school. He tested the educational waters even more when he was inspired by his girlfriend—now his wife—to study abroad in Bristol, England. Of his time in the U.K., Luis says, “I learned a great deal through the educational courses I took in England. I really did. And I still use those things here in the United States, like the idea of the UNCRC, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.” Luis had the opportunity to put that knowledge into practice through his experience as a Zankel Fellow. He brought the principles of the UNCRC to life through his work. “I want to give all of my students an equal chance, an equal right to education, in whatever grade I’m teaching. I did that in the Zankel Fellowship at Teachers College; I taught social-emotional learning for two years, and it was really interesting and rewarding. My job was to help the students communicate, to have the tools needed to discuss and resolve conflicts with each other in a reasonable manner.”

Because of his situation growing up, Luis was able to relate to the kids he was working with on a deeper level. “I didn’t grow up with very much; we didn’t have a lot of resources or exposure to things outside my community.” Although his resources were very limited, Luis had the powerful example of his hard-working immigrant parents. “My parents, who are immigrants from Argentina and Mexico, have always been hard workers, and I got that from them. Even though I didn't have the resources... it was mostly my work ethic and the fact that I persevered through everything that has gotten me here to a place where I feel good and in a job that I really enjoy.“

It was Luis’s journey through Teachers College that helped equip him to land a job he loves. Hearing about TC from a friend, Luis was drawn to the creativity and innovation in this nontraditional program. He had been on a trajectory going from small town to bigger and bigger cities as he pursued his education, and Teachers College had the perfect program for him: a program where he would get his masters, his NYSED teaching certification, and have the freedom to develop into his own musician. He had applied and interviewed with other programs, but upon a closer look, Luis realized that “ the other programs,  I would have been trained to be just like the professors, to be a clone. I didn't really like that.”

At TC in the Master of Arts Initial Certification in Music Program, he found the creativity, support, and inspiration he sought after on his journey as both an educator and musician. “TC really focuses on philosophy and building yourself as a educator, letting you explore and giving you the tools and the resources to teach the way that you want to teach.”

Philosophy with David Hansen and Creativity and Problem solving with Randall Allsup were two of Luis’s most influential classes during his time at TC.  “Those classes really helped me open up what I was really interested in. They made me think about my own ideas, my own morals, my own ethics, the things that I wanted to share with my kids.”  The concepts and practices he learned at TC didn’t just stay in the realm of theory; Luis brings them to life in his current classroom. “I took a lot of concepts from that Creativity and Problem Solving class [with Professor Allsup] and brought them into my own classroom.”

Luis currently teaches what he affectionately refers to as a ‘Modern Band,’ one that combines band, orchestra, and guitar, at BASIS Independent Brooklyn. When he started there, he didn’t just start a new job. He began turning around the struggling music program and developing a community of students who were encouraged to use their creativity in powerful ways. “It's that community bonding experience that brought me into music way more so than the music itself. I think that’s paramount to whatever music that you're playing.”

There seems to be no limit to the creativity Luis can bring to his school; he goes so far as to play his trumpet or clarinet in the hallways during passing periods to heighten interest in music.  As a teacher in this new private school, Luis speaks fondly of his experiences there. “They were really open; the school really lets me build and shape a program that I really envision.” Luis’s experiences at TC permeate his classroom as he involves compositions and learning by ear. “I help them in learning how to break apart a song, identifying melody, harmony, and bass, then arranging it for our unique combination of instruments.”

He also draws on his Zankel Fellowship experience, incorporating social-emotional learning into his classroom.  “I talk to my kids about being able to express themselves through another means, whether that be song, whether that be their instrument, whether that be through sports, whether that be through their academics. They need to have more than one way or access point. They need more than one method of expressing themselves.”

Luis wants others to experience music in the same life-giving way he did when he was in school. “I want my students to be able to express themselves musically, creatively, and in a way that they won't get a chance to in any other class. Music really helped me express myself in middle school and high school. I was really pretty reserved and shy in general, but being in a community of musicians helped me stand out in a way that I wouldn't have stood out in any other place. I want to invite students to explore why music is so powerful and how we can express our emotions through different elements of song.”

Reflecting back on his journey, Luis is excited and proud of past effort and future potential. “I don't see myself doing anything else. I love what I do. I mean, there are hard days, of course. Teaching is one of the hardest things you can ever do, but it's also one of the most rewarding because you know you have direct influence on the future. You're helping build these kids into citizens of the world. You're trying to positively change their lives.” Luis’s devotion to his students shines through his smile as he adds, “Plus, music is fun to play!”