Interview With Sarah Culp – NJ High School Band Teacher

To celebrate both Women’s History Month and Music in Our Schools Month, we are so excited to interview some fabulous music educators who are making an impact on their students across the country. I went to a summer festival with Sarah and I have always loved reading her posts about teaching… and I knew she would have great things to share with the Brass Chicks community.  – Kate Amrine


sarah culp.jpgSarah Culp is the current Director of Band’s at Manchester Township High School in Manchester Township, NJ. She holds a Bachelor of Music degree from William Paterson University of New Jersey where she studied Classical trumpet and minored in classical voice. In addition to overseeing the jazz band, concert band, pit Orchestra, and other small ensembles at her school, she is enrolled in the Master of Music in Music Education program at Rutgers University. She also holds the position of Principal trumpet in both the Toms River Municipal Band and the Central Jersey Wind Ensemble. She resides in Toms River, New Jersey.

1. How long have you been teaching? What are your responsibilities at the school? What do you love about teaching? Any favorite teaching moments?

This is currently my 5th year of  teaching. I did 2 years in Paterson, NJ Teaching k-8 general Music and marching band, 1 year in Clifton NJ teaching 7th and 8th grade band and assisting on the High School Marching band and this is my second year running a full high school program. I currently run the concert band, jazz band, marching band, pit Orchestra, and small chamber ensembles at Manchester Township High School. What I love most about teaching s giving kids a safe place to be where they are loved and accepted by all, and a place where they can express themselves. My students are a family and they all take care of each other. We also get to make great music and I love seeing them improve through the years. It’s the most rewarding thing to see a student change and develop as a person and as a musician. There are moments when my band nails a piece or nails a run of their field show and my heart is so full that I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

 2. In all your years of teaching and situations interacting with students, I am sure you have faced some difficult situations. Can you think of a tough moment you have had as a teacher and how it shapes your experience today?

When I worked in Clifton, the situation was really difficult because I was hired as a year long replacement when they moved the middle school director up to the high school after having to remove the high school director. I was verbally promised that I would stay if I did a great job, but they ended up pushing the teacher back down to the middle school, hiring someone new at the high school, and pushing me out. Telling my 7th and 8th graders that I was leaving was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I was so attached to them and they were so attached to me that I thought I would never recover from leaving them. I ended up landing my dream job after that and I love where I am, so I learned that everything truly happens for a reason, even if you can’t see the reason right away.

3. Do you think we have a specific role or responsibility as female brass players? How do you incorporate that (or not) into your own life as a musician?

I do think we have an important job as female brass players. There have been many times I have sat down in a section to play first or play lead, and all of the grey haired men next to me look at me with doubt or anger that I can do it. I think that’s ridiculous how often that happens and I am proud to say that currently all but one of my brass players in my high school  band are female.

 4. Do you see any specific challenges for musicians in today’s climate? How do you mitigate those on your own and for your students?

I think there are lots of challenges, especially in schools. The arts are under appreciated and under funded. This is not purely a high school problem, but one we deal with very often. I tell my students that as long as they feel good about what they are doing when they perform, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, and I try to hold that example for myself as well.

 5. Is there anything you wished you had known as a student or young professional that you know now? Any advice that you’d like to share with younger female musicians?

I wish I had known that you really have to be confident and not doubt yourself as a player. I try to instill in my kids that if you make a mistake while playing, make it big. That’s the only way you learn. When in doubt, play out. Being shy about it isn’t going to help you, especially as a brass player. I tell them all the time that I can’t fix mistakes I don’t hear.

6. Any resources you recommend? Books, podcasts, recordings that changed your life etc.

Two books actually completely changed me as a player. The Inner Game of Music and A Soprano on her Head. Those books teach you everything you’ll ever need to know about judging what comes out of your horn before it comes out of your horn. They helped me with my performance anxiety in college more than anything else.

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