Blessed with Wonderful Music Instructors: Dr. Doreen Ketchens

Doreen Ketchens,

It was a by-chance viewing of Doreen’s busking “House of the Rising Sun” that first caught my attention, and I needed to learn more! While she asserts she typically doesn’t do many interviews, Doreen, aka Lady Louis, was excited to answer my questions about early childhood music education, and I’m glad she did!

Doreen grew up in New Orleans and began playing the clarinet at a young age. It was then that she faced her kindest and toughest instructors.

John Berthelot, courtesy of Doreen Ketchens

Her kindest instructor was John Berthelot at Joseph Craig Elementary School (now Plessy Community School), who introduced her to music in 6th grade and was easy to please as she met her early goals as a musician. Her toughest was Donald Richardson at the now-closed Bell Junior High School. Doreen explains, “He was a no nonsense, hardnosed, insulting, and at times cruel.” At the same time, this teacher instilled within her a toughness and fearlessness that would carry her through to the fame she has today. Richardson is remembered as training some of the inner city students to be the best musicians, educators, and doctors, who understood his desire in education was for their betterment.

Bell Junior High Band with Donald Richardson front row, right, and Doreen Ketchens next to him, courtesy of Doreen Ketchens
Walter Harris, Sr.,

At Kennedy Senior High School, band director, Walter Harris, Sr. taught her to hone her talents. He held both qualities of Richardson and Berthelot. Doreen says Harris pulled her out of her cockiness developed in her early teens and developed within her respect for self and others and a love of teaching.

“My favorite memories of [Dr. Harris] was watching him sit one-on-one with a young person not only teaching them how to play but showing them kindness and patience.”

Freddy Blue Goodrich, Twitter
New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, Facebook

School gave Doreen opportunities to participate at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and to see the precursor of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra (New Orleans Symphony Orchestra) with principal flautist, Richard Harrison. He taught, by simply performing, that she could be a successful symphony musician, regardless of her race. Along with a collection of music teachers came a fight to be successful. There were times when Doreen was first chair and then just as quickly removed. She understood the definition of audition, and she was serious about being a success.

Stanley Weinstein, courtesy of Doreen Ketchens

In fact, she pursued private lessons, in addition to those taught in school, with Stanley Weinstein, a musician who is nationally known for his prowess in non-profit organizations and his musicality in symphony orchestras. Weinstein has played principal clarinet with the Mobile Symphony and the New Orleans Symphony. He is also credited with performing Debussy’s Premiére Rhapsodie under conductor, Phillip Entremont and performing the Copland Clarinet Concerto under conductor, Aaron Copland.

Dr. Lawrence Ketchens II, courtesy of Doreen Ketchens

In college, she joined Lawrence Ketchens’ New Orleans Jazz Band with future husband, Dr. Lawrence H Ketchens, II. He introduced her to jazz, and because of him, she has developed the perfect blend of jazz and classical. Her music education could have stopped had she not met Dr. Lawrence Ketchens, but fortunately for her fans, it did not. Of course, becoming her husband was an added blessing.

Her biggest inspiration aside from her early childhood music teachers and her husband is Louis Armstrong. She has been compared to the late musician due to her personality and the way she holds her instrument.

Doreen performs in front of Rouses on Royal Street in New Orleans every weekend from 10:30am to 2:30pm Friday through Monday. She is also available for performances, private lessons, and classes.

You can support Doreen by following her on Facebook, Twitter (X), and Instagram. Watch her performances on Youtube, and purchase her one of her many albums on her website.

Growing up with Sunny

Imagine a 12 year-old coming into your choir class belting out a solo performance of “What I did for Love”. I’m sure I wasn’t the only 7th grader who was stunned. Who was this individual, and how did we get so lucky to have her in our Reno, NV classroom?

This individual was Sunny Michelson – professionally known as Sunny Ozell or Madame Ozell. She was a strong alto, she stood just a few feet away from me, and I wished I had her powerful voice.

Sunny stayed in choir through middle school but turned to orchestra in high school to hone her violin skills. Outside of school, she continued with private voice lessons.

Sunny (far left) in The Boyfriend, 1995, Re-Wa-Ne Yearbook

I’m not sure what guidance our junior high music teacher, Barbara Legocki, could offer her aside from sharing a love of music. Sunny seemed to surpass most of us. And, while pursuing her private vocal lessons and her performance with the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra, she found time to perform her junior year in our high school musical, “The Boyfriend“, under drama teacher, Sabrina Cellucci. I knew she could sing, but the question I had to ask was whether she could act. I found out later, the multi-talented Sunny created her monologue in the girls’ bathroom just moments earlier! And, she was cast as the lead, Miss Polly Brown. I was the props mistress for that production, and I enjoyed hearing her sing with all the others during every rehearsal and every performance. She truly was a star.

After stellar academic years, both professionally and academically, Sunny moved on to college in Colorado where she sang as part of a band called Chupacabra (I’m not sure if the band still exists). The one time they came to Reno at the same time I was there, I discovered Sunny had already moved to New York.

It was an exciting time for her. She made friends as a server during the day and amazed audiences with her voice at night.

In 2016, Sunny released her first album, Take It with Me. One of my favorite tracks on this album is “Kill Zone“. It’s a bit morbid, but I like the melody and the words. A close second is “Git Gone” as it came out as a single right around my divorce!

Her second album, Overnight Lows, released in 2020, contained all originals. I love “Comes and It Goes” and “Hammer and Nail” from this album. Sunny reflects that Nevada provided a lot of inspiration for this album.

Today, Sunny is occasionally performing. She has live performances on her Youtube and also provides silly and serious anecdotes on her Facebook page. I was privileged to see her in 2017 when she performed in our hometown. If you follow her Facebook, you might catch her next performance!

Listen and watch Sunny’s music on Youtube or Spotify. Her newest song, “Breathe with Me“, released in 2021 is trending on Spotify! Follow her on Facebook, Twitter (X), and Instagram. And, as always, please purchase her music at your favorite retailer!

Church and Music Education: Lady A

For some, music education begins in school. For others, it begins outside of school with family and religious institutions. Such is the case for Puget Sound artist, The Real Lady A.

Lady A,

Lady A, who is considered “the hardest workin’ woman in blues, soul, funk and gospel” began her music career singing in the children’s choir at five years-old. Later, teaching King County elementary school students during the Covid pandemic caused her to reflect on her upbringing accented by jazz, gospel, soul, and blues. In fact, her family introduced her to all types of music, but gospel was the most influential of all for Lady A.

She explains she was taught by the “best choir directors and music mothers of [her church]” including her mother, Florence Johnson, and musical director at the Greater Mt Baker Baptist Church, Sister Loretta Witt.

Gospel music has guided her throughout her career, both personally and professionally. She says it’s the lyrics that first grab her attention: if they tell a compelling story, Lady A immediately gravitates to their songs.

She will be performing in Washington just prior to an international tour in Sweden and France. You can catch Lady A on September 23rd at Egan’s Ballard Jam House at 7pm and on October 5th at the Meiter Brewing Company.

You can support Lady A by following her on Facebook and Instagram. You can also watch some of her performances on Youtube.

And always, purchase the artist’s music at your favorite music store. Lady A’s newest album, Just Bein’ Me, with my favorite song – “Big Cup” is currently available on her website.

At what age should children start their music education? (Part 1)

In my research on music education, I’ve discovered there are different ages at which education begins, different instruments taught at different ages, and of course different qualities of education offered. The majority of the research agrees that music is essential for educational and developmental growth. So, I’ve decided to look at two programs offered to school students – one in Australia and one in Seattle, WA. How are they different? How are they the same? And could the Seattle Symphony offer something similar to what the Australian Chamber Orchestra offers?

Australian Chamber Orchestra, 2017. Credit Simon Davidson

First, the Australian Chamber Orchestra — ACO, offers an intensive foundations course starting when children are six years-old. Music education expert, Dr. Anita Collins, developed this program based on her research that demonstrated music instruction started before age six creates significant changes in the brain as it continues to develop.

This intensive foundations program is currently being taught at only one school – St Mary’s North Public School in New South Wales. Collins chose this school based on its location in a low socio-economic area. The program began five years ago.

Music Instruction at St Mary’s North Public School, Facebook

When the child begins the program, the ACO provides either a violin or cello to the student, offers weekly instruction and daily practice, includes visits from orchestra members, and provides opportunities for the students to demonstrate their mastery. The program continues until the child has reached their third year of primary school with the use of technology and dedicated music environments.

In addition to the transferrable developmental and educational skills students can gain in the music program, it is hoped that the children will develop discipline, a sense of self, and the inspiration to continue a lifelong learning of music in whatever format that might look like. And, it is hoped that the general educators have a better understanding of the link music has to cognition along with their own learning to play a musical instrument.

Certainly there must be quality engagement between musicians and general educators for this program to be successful. Collins understood that valuable piece and personally taught professional development and teamwork instruction to both groups as part of the implementation of the ACO program.

“In 2022 the full program expansion was realised with all of Years One, Two and Three – approximately 150 students, four ACO instrumental educators, and six classroom teachers – participating in the program on a weekly basis.”

Anita Collins, 2023
Dr. Anita Collins

For me, this demonstrates learner analytics in action. Collins conducted research and made observations about music education and children. She then implemented a program in coordination with the ACO, and now she is evaluating the outcome. At this point, she would be looking at what changes are happening, if they are positive changes for both the children and the school, and what changes, if any, need to be made to improve the program. In her report, she provides both anecdotal and evidence-based results from this program.

“Many boys [around age 11 or 12] might have a hero that is a superhero, like Spiderman. Jaxson’s hero is Richard Tognetti, Artistic Director and Principal Violin of the ACO.”

Anita Collins, 2023

Jaxson started the program with sensory overload issues, contributed to by autism. He also struggled with reading. Through the music program, he learned how to manage his emotions, follow instructions, and operate as part of a team. Of course, his ability to handle sensory overload also improved, and playing his instrument was the highlight of his day.

Students who participated in the ACO program showed fewer absences, improved feelings about school, improved ability to learn in both reading and math, greater focus and attention which led to better behavior in the classroom, and increased motor development.

In my next blog, I’ll talk about the program that the Seattle Symphony offers to Seattle students. I have already sent their education team some questions in preparation for what I will write.

Matt Dela Cruz: Queer with an Ear for Music

How common is it to see a queer actor or musician? Some might say very common. Others have no idea. And, there are those who complain it is too common of an occurrence. The fact is that queer artists are emerging as a solid force in the music industry. Queer musicians, actors, and educators are shining on the stage, distinguishing themselves as strong leaders in the field.

One such leader is Matt Dela Cruz – karaoke lover, musical theater actor, playwright, and most importantly (for me), music theater education teacher. Matt is also a proud queer Asian-American. He has taught theater arts at Brighton School in the Puget Sound for several years, recently performed the part of Collins in the musical, “Rent“, and even more recently, graduated with his masters in teaching. And if that is not enough, he also serves as president of the board of Copious Love Productions.

Matt Dela Cruz in “First Date”

While he has been acting and singing for many years, Matt’s most recent accolades are as BroadwayWorld Seattle’s best supporting role in “First Date” and top 4 finalist in an online competition similar to NBC’s “The Voice”.

Enthusiastic music teachers trained Matt in middle and high school. While his initial passion for music came through his mother, Matt saw his music educators having so much excitement in teaching children. Matt took his first drama class in college and explains it was the memory of his music teachers that inspired him to take the class. He had wanted to explore theater earlier, but he didn’t want to be stereotyped as the “theater kid”.

R&B band, Kai

With music in his ears and dreams of stardom in his eyes at a young age, Matt idolized those who looked like him – Ernie Reyes Jr., Ke Huy Quan, Jocelyn Enriquez, and Kai. An interest in musical theater emerged later when he first saw a version of Cinderella starring Paolo Montalban and other BIPOC actors – Brandy and Whitney Houston.

Paolo Montalban in Cindarella

“Seeing him act and sing with such charm and confidence gave me the inspiration to eventually pursue musical theatre professionally”

Matt Dela Cruz

Reflecting on his struggle to be a success in the theater world, Matt asserts his best lessons were to know his worth as a person and to have a financial plan. Many of those dreaming to make it big in the music industry don’t know how much it costs to pursue the dream. Matt explains that he went into debt when he first moved to New York. He wished he had set aside some money and now recommends that those who follow in his footsteps have a cushion of at least $10,000. Understanding who he was gave Matt another struggle. He says he interacted with some mean people in the theater industry that forced him to develop confidence and realize that knowing his identity would propel him to success. His talent was only a pre-requisite.

As a music teacher, Matt works to instill confidence, enthusiasm, enjoyment, and passion in his students. With his new masters in teaching degree, he hopes to teach at the middle and high school levels. He will always, though, be an artist.

“There isn’t anything wrong with having to put performing as a ‘part-time’ thing while working a job full-time. You are still an artist regardless of how much time you put into your craft.”

Matt Dela Cruz

And, what is on the horizon for Matt? He’ll be auditioning for more local musicals, promoting theatrical performances by Copious Love Productions, and showing up for the occasional karaoke performance. You can follow Matt on Instagram and TikTok. Also, watch some of his serious and funny videos on YouTube.

It’s a Family Affair: Ranger and the “Re-Arrangers”

One of the more difficult steps in entering the entertainment industry is choosing the perfect stage name. For Ranger Sciacca, his family made the stage name simple!

And while he does have his family to thank for his strong musical background, he can also reflect back to what he learned as a younger student with teachers, Stuart Williams and Alice Kanack, AKA “Mozart’s Mother”. Both of these favorite teachers taught him creativity, technique, and improvisation, and music theory. He’s forever grateful for their time they invested in him.

Alice Kanack
Stuart Williams

Ranger explains music created his identity from an early age. Music taught him discipline, follow-through, teamwork, passion, balance, and self-motivation. So many of these skills are transferable in other domains, but continuing from that first spark – music – is something amazing, and I know, fulfilling!

Ranger also credits many musicians who have come before him as his inspirations for his eclectic jazzy or hot-club swing music: “Oh Lady Be Good“, “Minor Swing” by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, “Walk Don’t Run” by the Ventures, “Hello Dolly” by Louis Armstrong, and, interestingly, Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words Op.19 No.4 in A Major” and “The Ludlows” (from Legends of the Fall) – Did you notice I included a HS orchestral performance of “The Ludlows” in that last link. The beautiful song is complicated but sounds beautiful when performed by artists at any age! In each of these songs, he studied their voice and instrumentation and aimed to make it his own.

You can find Ranger and the “Re-Arrangers” performing throughout the Puget Sound. On Sunday, September 3, 2023, you can find them at Tsillan Cellars in Chelan, WA. Later this fall, they will be performing in Bellevue, WA, Quilcene, WA, and Chimacum, WA. They also have multiple dates in Bainbridge Island.

Listen and watch some of Ranger’s performances on Youtube. Learn more about Ranger and the “Re-Arrangers” on their Facebook. And as always, please support this artist by purchasing his music at your favorite retailer: Amazon, Itunes, etc.

From Stage Fright to Success: Amelia Day

Is it possible to have some music education and stage fright? Absolutely! But thanks to teachers, families, and friends, stage fright can be overcome. And, for Amelia Day, it was confronting stage fright that truly sparked a love in music. Her first original performance was when she was in her early teens.

those scattered performances in musicals, talent shows, and concerts were what helped me enjoy performing rather than fear it!

Amelia Day

In August 2023, Amelia Day performed with her local Seattle band, The Cloves, at Bellevue Beats and at The Triple Door. It is such an exciting thing to have your name and music continually recognized in her home state! Her music is mesmerizing, and I wanted to learn a little more about her, especially her background in K12 music education.

It turns out while she does possess natural talent, she owes her continued success to the music education she received from childhood! She explains she was fortunate to have quality music education as many do not. And, hers started with learning the piano at five years-old. From piano playing, she moved on to composition, choir, and theater. While she understood the need for structure, she was grateful from an early age to learn about improvisation.

I was allowed to have agency and play around with ideas, rather than just follow rote instructions

Amelia Day

Like many musical students, she does have a favorite music teacher. The woman who taught her piano from age five through high school, Sharon Beattie-White, is still a good mentor. While years have passed since her early years in music education, Amelia still keeps in touch with this favorite teacher via social media and social visits. They share their love of music, and Amelia explains, that without Sharon Beattie-White, she wouldn’t be the musician and individual she is today.

Amelia has covered Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” as well as performed several of her own compositions. She also enjoys collaborating with other artists. Her music could best be described as soulful, blue grassy, or Americana. I could push play on her youtube channel, close my eyes, and just be lost in the Amelia world. My favorite song is the jazzy “Silhouette”.

If you’d like to learn more about Amelia Day, you can find her performing throughout the Puget Sound when she’s not studying at Vanderbilt University or around the Nashville area while she’s completing her studies.

Check out her newest album, Eastward of Eden, listen to some of her newest singles, “Skippin’ Down the Sidewalk”, and “Make A Move” and watch her performances on Youtube. Get ready for her newest, “Therapist’s Wet Dream”. Finally, you can also follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Tiktok, and Spotify. And as always, please purchase these artists’ music at your favorite retailers to continue show your support for Amelia.

Happy Birthday Leonard Bernstein!

Sometimes it’s as simple as giving away a hand-me-down piano that inspires a child to live a lifelong dream of music. That’s what happened to Leonard Bernstein who is recognized today for celebrating his 105th birthday.

Bernstein is known for his many musicals, symphonies, choral works, musical direction, and others. And for his work, he has won Emmy Awards, Tony Awards, Grammy Awards and a Kennedy Center Honor. He was also nominated for an Oscar for his composition of “On the Waterfront“.

But let’s return to Bernstein as a child. He was ten years-old when he saw his first piano. And, this was after being exposed to music on the radio and at temple, thanks to his parents. Granted, while Bernstein’s parents did expose him to music, they didn’t initially support his interest. When Bernstein proved himself as a piano player by saving up for lessons and learning to play Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies by the age of 13, his father bought him a pricey Bar Mitzfah present a 5-foot Baby Grand piano.

Bernstein is mostly self taught in both piano and music theory; though he was privileged to study under Heinrich Gebhard’s assistant Helen Coates from the age of 14 to the age of 17 and under Heinrich Gebhard from age 17 through adulthood. From these experiences, Bernstein attended Harvard and majored in music and later, the Curtis Institute of Music, while at the same time creating his musical masterpieces.

Talk about having a favorite teacher! Yes, I do remember all of my music teachers quite fondly, but Bernstein did more than just remember his teachers. Helen Coates developed within Bernstein a strong sense of self and the music discipline that he would carry through the rest of his life. Coates became the expert organizer of Bernstein’s music in later years, and Bernstein wrote music for her: “Four Anniversaries”.

You can learn much more about Leonard Bernstein on his Wikipedia page that was very well-researched. But as to his k12 music education, I’ll leave you with this:

Never forget those who embraced your love of music, and if possible honor them in a musical way.

Toastmasters Officer Training

I had the privilege of conducting officer training today. I trained the incoming club secretaries. Here is a brief portion of that presentation.

These are the reviews I received!

Queer Representation in Music Education

It might seem that there is a lot of talk about queer individuals in the arts scene; however, the talk is recent, and it’s not enough. Casey Claros, music journalist with Finessed Media and , shares an interesting explanation relevant to queer artistry:

“[Queer artists] gain a following before they ever sign a record deal… and the algorithm helps them out tremendously to connect with people. Based off of that, they can show that they’re profitable to a label, and a label cannot ignore these artists.”

Vox Magazine, 2021

Queer artists who start their career in the open can build a following that will carry them through the spotlight whereas artists who come out as queer later in their career risk being misgendered, targeted with homophobia, and at risk of losing work. This isn’t to say that all queer artists should start their careers as authentically as possible – some are unable to, and others are still questioning. What is needed is a reminder to those who once loved a queer artist before they knew the artist was queer that there is still positivity and relevance in each individual.

So let’s talk about queer musicians! I found a few worth highlighting who had their roots in K12 music education: MXMToon, King Princess, and Lil Nas X.

MXMToon, also known as Maia XMT, started her music education at a very young age, following her brother with violin lessons. She continued to excel in her studies, learning to play the cello and trumpet. Her first big break came when she was about ten years old. She became a vocalist in her school’s rock band. Perhaps that success was what led her down the road to songwriting? Maia XMT wrote her first song just a few years later: 1-800-DATEME. Maia XMT has released 5 albums with the most recent, Rising, in May 2022, followed up by a tour in North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe! You can find Maia XMT on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Spotify, and Tik Tok. You can buy her music at Amazon or Itunes.

King Princess‘ first introduction to music came through her father’s recording studio; however, her K12 music education came by way of Avenues School in NYC and University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music in Los Angeles. The artist, also known as Mikaela Mullaney Straus, recorded a CD as her entrance interview, and she was immediately accepted. Avenues School is a pre-k through 12th grade private school with a focus on arts – both visual and performing arts. She has accomplished so much since she completed her studies as both a songwriter and musician. You can follow her on Youtube, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Be sure to check out her music at your favorite retailer!

Lil Nas X, also known as Montero Lamar Hill, began his music career as a trumpeter in elementary and junior high school. He excelled in the instrument but gave up practice in high school. He explains if someone were to give him a trumpet, he could probably still play it. His teenage years were a struggle for him as he battled his eventual sexual identity. Everything he did was an attempt to be cool and to hide who he didn’t want to be. But, now, he’s proudly queer, collaborating with Billy Ray Cyrus on “Old Town Road” and covering “Jolene” by Dolly Parton. Of course Lil Nas X also excels at writing and performing his own music. His first studio album, Montero, received critical acclaim. It was first presented as a coming new born as Lil Nas X did a photo shoot as a pregnant man. Over 1 million albums sold, and it was the most pre-added song on Itunes. It also debuted at number two on the Billboard Hot 200. This album was recognized for two singles which reached number one on the Hot 100 charts in 2021. He followed this album with an international tour in 2022. If you already know about Lil Nas X, you know where to find him. If not, you can follow him on Spotify, Youtube, Facebook, Tik Tok, Instagram, and Twitter. I encourage you to buy his music at your favorite retailer. Album sales more than concert ticket sales are what support these artists!

More on a local queer artist to come in a future blog.