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Spotlight on Gary Shields,
Director of Community Affairs and Partnerships 


Where are you from, and can you briefly describe your journey that brought you to this point in your life?

Born and raised in Atlanta, GA, my earliest musical inspiration sprang from the fingertips of our church pianist.  As an eight-year-old, I remember turning to my mom one Sunday and asking if I could take piano lessons. The rest is history!  I would practice piano for hours on-end without my mom ever having to tell me to practice. In fact, a few times I remember her telling me to stop playing and get ready for bed!  As a high schooler, I took my first foray into composing and later studied composition and theory in college and grad school. During that time, I also realized my passion for arts administration and have been blessed since then to have worked for amazing organizations which all bring music education and experiences of the highest quality to students.

How did you get started working with ETM-LA, and what inspired you to join?

The longer one works in the music industry, the smaller and smaller it seems to become.  I heard about ETM-LA through friends and quickly realized that I already had several connections with board members, associate board members, former college-mates, and other acquaintances.  I met Victoria Lanier some time ago and over the years, I saw ETM-LA as a proven, successful model from an academic as well as humanistic perspective. I was impressed to see the growth of the organization over the years, allowing ETM-LA to reach more and more kids.  I was very fortunate to find out about the creation of a new position — Director of Community Affairs and Partnerships.

Where is your favorite place that you’ve lived, and why?

I have enjoyed many places I’ve lived: Atlanta is my first home and where most of my family still lives.  Asheville, NC is a peaceful, beautiful city where I lived for four years. And now after almost 12 years in Los Angeles, I consider it my second home.  I love the diversity of peoples, locales, cuisines, geographies, and of course the weather! To me, LA is a big melting pot within the enormous melting pot we call America.

Have you ever had a music educator in your life who impacted you? If so, could you tell us a little bit about them, and how they may have influenced you?

I have had several music teachers that have left an indelible mark on me.  Jama Reagan, who teaches piano performance at Vanderbilt University, was more than a great teacher to me — she was also a friend, a mentor, and an incredible support system who nurtured me in music and beyond.  Her love for music and teaching was palpable. I credit Jama for inspiring and encouraging me to teach and also giving me an incredible foundation to be and become a better teacher.

Another teacher who left an indelible mark on me was Dr. Michael Rose, who teaches composition at Vanderbilt University.  Dr. Rose is a brilliant academic, philosopher, and kind-hearted man who made every topic larger-than-life and very animated.  He could seriously turn a lecture about a trashcan into the most informative, engaging, hilarious, and memorable lesson ever. Every lecture or private lesson with Dr. Rose left you inspired and wanting more and more!

What do you think is the best part about working with Education Through Music-Los Angeles?  

There are many great things about working with Education Through Music-Los Angeles.  First and foremost — the mission! Working to bring comprehensive, sequential music education as a right to children in underserved communities is really an honor.  I also love our work environment and my coworkers: we are passionate about what we do and we like to have fun along the way.