Megan Clark is sharing her love for music and inspiring many at Chatham Central High School in Bear Creek. You can feel it as soon as you walk into her class. She breathes soul into a quote in her chorus room: “Be Somebody Who Makes Everybody Feel Like Somebody”. Hearing her talking and joking with students, sharing a few personal stories about herself with them, and then singing with her students, I knew right away that she makes these students “feel like somebody” day in and day out. Her face lights up, her eyes grow, and a smile stretches across her face as she plays piano and encourages her students singing Adele’s “When We Were Young.”
I have to admit: I got chills. Her impact on their worlds, for now and for the rest of their lives, was palpable.
“I really don’t like music.”
In fourth grade, few people would have predicted that Megan would spend most of her waking hours in a music classroom. The photo on the left is a book she made that year. “I really don’t like music.”
But Megan can tell you where she stood, who she stood next to, and what she sang (a Latin piece, “Gloria,” and “Old Joe Clark”) just two years later in her first chorus concert at her arts magnet school in High Point, NC. A special handwritten note from her chorus teacher, Catherine Butler, was the spark for Megan. She remembers deciding to be a chorus teacher, asking her mom for piano lessons in seventh grade, and studying with Ms. Butler all the way through high school graduation.
When Megan says, “Ms. Butler and I are still very, very close. I would not be anything without her. She’s my biggest inspiration,” I can’t help but think about the many times her students have already said–or will one day say–these exact words about Megan, who is now in her fourth year as Choral Director at Chatham Central.
Ms. Butler wasn’t the only arts educator who shaped who Megan is. While reflecting on other arts experiences that have had the most impact on her, two more come to mind. The summer before her junior year in high school, Megan spent eight weeks at Governor’s School for music. She remembers being in chorus there, singing every day, and learning pieces from different cultures. And then there was senior year Honors Chorus and the clinician there, Dr. Jeffery L. Ames, who talked about their songs and what they meant, “emphasizing how music brings everybody together.”
Music and marriage
In Megan’s life, music has certainly brought people together! In addition to teaching, this soprano is also a section leader in her church choir at Ebenezer Lutheran Church in Greensboro. Megan loves the liturgical nature of the Lutheran church–“everything is sung, so it’s great for singers!”–and she is buoyed by the professional leadership of Choir Director Dr. William P. Carol. And the Ebenezer Lutheran music program is where Megan happened to meet her future husband, David Clark. But wait–it gets better!
After David and Megan met, and Megan accepted her job offer from Chatham Central, she found out that David worked right down the road at Bonlee School, teaching music and band there! Eventually, these two music-makers got married, and decided to head to Chatham themselves, becoming Chatham County residents this summer. One of the many beautiful gifts here is that she now gets to teach some of the same students as high-schoolers that her husband once taught in early grades!
Small but mighty
Megan’s love for Chatham Central shines brightly. “They’re always the smallest group at MPA [Music Peformance Adjudication through the NC Music Educators Association]. They know it, but there’s a lot of power to that. They really do work hard, and they kind of own it. Then, when they get recognized for how well they do, it really builds them up.”
Their size may be small, but they certainly are mighty. “We always, always, get complimented on how professional they are. They’re very disciplined and take themselves very seriously on stage, and the judges always comment on that.” Judges comment again and again about how much her students care.
That passion seems to be contagious, and the group is growing. “When I first got here, I think I took twenty kids to MPA, and now I have an ensemble of forty, so it’s getting better and better,” says Megan. “Our county office, they’re so supportive. The arts just the past four years in Chatham have really grown.” Still, she’s quick to downplay the importance of choral size. Talking fondly of her students, she says, “They work so hard and are so grateful for every opportunity that they get, and that is more important than having 500 kids.”
“Leave my classroom a better person”
It’s important to Megan to practice her art in a happy place to work, where she can give the students an amazing experience. In fact, the word “happy” surfaced a lot during our time together. Chatham is so much richer because she’s here.
“I tell them all the time that I would rather them leave my classroom a better person than they were when they got there, than to leave as the world’s best singer. They respect each other’s differences, and they’re all chorus friends. It’s like a family.”
She gives students a survey at the end of the year, and I was struck by answers one question in particular because none of them were music-related. Megan asked, “What’s the most important lesson you learned this year in chorus?” Here’s one: “I learned how to be present in the moment and to enjoy what’s happening now and not worry about everything else.” And another: “Even if I’ve had a terrible day, I have to leave that stuff out of the door and focus on singing–not just for me, but for everybody else.”
Megan confides that when she has a bad day, she gets these out and reads them to remind herself why she does what she does. “They find common ground in their singing,” Megan said. Now this is music to one’s ears, isn’t it?
See them sing
The day I visited with Megan was only two days after her students’ first fall concert, and it sounded like they blew it out of the water! The group performs numerous times throughout the year, and the one performance she feels affects the community the most is the Central District Arts Showcase, which happens only every three years.
“It’s an art showcase from kindergarten through high school,” Megan explains. “It’s really cool because it gives the kids who are even in kindergarten a chance to see — ‘Oh, I could be in chorus in middle and in high school.’” She adds, “It’s a lot of work, but it’s really, really cool to see everybody come together like that, and for them to see where they could be in the future and what the opportunities are.” It’s always free, so y’all be sure to tune in; we should start seeing signs of this grand show taking place this March!
If that’s not soon enough, you can see the Chatham Central High Chorus sing on November 11 at the Chatham Arts Council’s own Pickin’: A Music Celebration! With The Bluegrass Experience headlining in celebration of their 47th anniversary as a band, the chorus will take the stage during intermission. As young singers, they’ll get to see what musicians can do after playing together for 47 years, and they’re looking forward to singing, too. “They often feel compared to the other schools that are bigger and have maybe some more resources, so they’re really excited when something like this happens, and they get recognized because they work really hard,” she said.
Since Pickin’ is our annual fundraiser for our Chatham Artists-in-Schools Initiative, which places professional artists in schools to enhance curricular learning, I asked Megan about why arts in schools matters. She had a lot to say. In her choral group, “they learn how to read music and to be musical, and that’s creativity. It’s critical thinking. It’s problem-solving. And they’re also learning social skills, learning to get along with people, learning that their one voice can make a big difference in a group. They learn leadership skills, too, because when it’s smaller like this, they realize how much they play a role in the success of everybody else. And it has to start in the elementary schools–even if it’s planting the seed.”
Our Artists-in-Schools Initiative will bring an artist residency to all 10 traditional public elementary schools in Chatham for the first time this year, and we’re happy to be a part of planting some of these seeds. If by chance, folks, you have not gotten your tickets to Pickin’, get tickets now to come on out and support our Artists-in-Schools program, hear some extraordinary Chatham bluegrass–and meet Megan and hear her students yourselves. You will walk away inspired, I am sure.
Full Name: Megan Raisner Clark
Born: High Point, North Carolina
One of your favorite childhood memories? I have so many. Most involve growing up with my four awesome siblings. I would have to say our yearly beach trips to Oak Island.
As a kid, my dream job was: A teacher! Ever since 2nd grade when someone told me I had good handwriting and should be a teacher, it stuck with me. 🙂
Three words that describe my art: expressive, challenging, fulfilling
I am inspired by: my students!
When I am not creating art, you’ll probably find me: Cooking or baking!
Most people don’t know I: wrote a book about myself for class in fourth grade, where I revealed that my least favorite class was MUSIC!
The most dangerous thing I ever did was: Oh gosh. I like to think I don’t do dangerous things. I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a risk-taker. Honestly, probably white water rafting.
My spouse says I am: Perfect 😉
My students say I am: When asked, they said: quirky, energetic, and caring.
The last book I read was: Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
Three Chatham County artists I admire are: Lauren Deserres, Art Teacher at Chatham Central and Owner of Proud Chicken Studio; David Clark, Band and Music Teacher at Bonlee School, Trumpet Player, and Baritone Vocalist (also happens to be my husband); Maggie Smith, Owner of Dogwood Furniture (She beautifully restores furniture and takes custom orders!)