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Spotlight on Julio, ETM-LA Music Teacher

“I believe all children deserve the opportunity to experience and enjoy being a musician. I want to be part of their musical journey and help facilitate a discovery of something greater…”



How did you get to becoming a music educator?

My musical journey began in my country of origin, El Salvador, at the age of nine. I learned to play piano, guitar and percussion instruments, as musicians called it, “by ear” meaning without developing the ability to read standard music notation. Driven to pursue higher education, I arrived in the United States in 2006, enrolled in high school and began taking music theory classes there. Little did I know that the obstacles I encountered by not knowing how to read music would turn into motivation to master and cherish this important skill. With much dedication and effort, in a period of six months I was able to read music proficiently to successfully pass an audition to join the school’s award-winning marching band.

This eventually led to an increase of my love for music and was instrumental in my decision to become a music educator. I want to grant children the gift of having a sequential, high-quality music education. Had my high school not had a vibrant music program, I would’ve not fully discovered my passion for music. I became a music educator because I believe all children deserve the opportunity to experience and enjoy being a musician. I want to be part of their musical journey and help facilitate a discovery of something greater, that is music.

Is there a music educator who impacted you?

Yes, there are two that I can particularly identify. One was my high school band director, Mr. Robert Eisenhart. To me, he was the personification of discipline, charisma, excellence and love for music all combined. His way of acting, conducting rehearsals and assertive words of encouragement instilled in me a deeper love for music and music education.

The second educator that impacted me the most was my theory professor in undergrad studies, Dr. David Goodman. His teaching methodology was centered in student achievement as he showed great care and dedication in his lessons. He had high expectations for all his students, and his classes were highly engaging and effective.

ETM-LA Teacher Julio De León and students from St. Michael’s School spreading holiday cheer to the residents of Marycrest Manor

What do you love about teaching with ETM-LA?

What I love about teaching with ETM-LA is that it allows me to impact the lives of children in underserved communities. It brings me great joy to work as a teacher with ETM-LA because I can be at the front line of the organization’s mission, which in part is restoring music education as a core subject in schools, but more importantly, restoring music education in the lives of children: the next generation of musicians. There is also a sense of community, a sense of family in this organization that is hard to find elsewhere. For that, I’m grateful.

Why do you think it’s important to keep music in schools?

Among the physical benefits are helping in developing motor skills and enhancing brain development engaging the senses of sight, sound and touch. Music has the capability of teaching students about discipline when diligently practicing an instrument, teamwork when working in cohesion with other members of an ensemble and can also provide students a sense of accomplishment when preparing for and delivering a successful performance. These outcomes have long lasting effects that carry on to the lives of many, even in adulthood. Lastly, music is fun! What a better way to keep children in school than providing for them a fun class that also educates them and gives them an opportunity to be artistic, original, and creative.

What is your approach to teaching virtually? How have you successfully transitioned from the classroom to the computer screen?

Part of my approach to teaching virtually is to keep students engaged throughout my lessons by using a variety of activities. I plan my lessons so that students are accountable for their own learning and students can “discover” on their own (with strategic guidance) the musical concepts I want them to learn. I accomplish this by facilitating lots of opportunities for singing, developing aural skills by having students take rhythmic or melodic dictations, engaging in body movement activities that reinforce kinesthetic learning, etc.

Teaching music virtually has encouraged me to use more visual elements to illustrate ideas such as drawings, puppets, and manipulatives in general. I’ve also found myself giving words of praise to my class and to individuals more often than in the classroom not only to create a safe, positive and more pleasant class experience for students, but also to acknowledge their presence and efforts during class.

Try out this fun rhythm activity with Julio at home!

Your instructional videos are so innovative and engaging! What have you discovered makes a high-quality educational video?

You have to think like a child. What content would be engaging and fun to me if I was a 7-year-old? What will a student find exciting? How do I present my content in an effective and exciting way?

My Kodály and Orff approach to teaching elementary music have been particularly helpful in creating content that is sequential and effective. I’ve been fortunate to be a two-year recipient of ETM-LA’s summer scholarship to study these courses. As an additional result of participating, I’ve been able to be part of a community of music educators that keeps in touch regularly through social media where we share ideas on teaching music.

While I like to implement Kodály-based lessons, I particularly find the Orff approach suitable for remote learning. Part of the Orff approach focuses on breaking down music to its most fundamental elements. This makes music accessible to every child, while also maintaining music’s playful nature so that it is an enjoyable experience for students. Presenting lessons in a fun, exciting and innovative way resonates with Carl Orff’s own words when referring to music education in elementary schools: “a child’s work is play.”

What are you looking forward to the most about returning to the classroom?

One of the things that I look forward to the most is seeing my students in person. All the children I teach hold a special place in my heart. I most certainly look forward to creating live music with my choir and all the general music classes I teach. I particularly look forward to organizing Winter and Spring concerts. These types of performances provide such a valuable opportunity for us, educators, to empower students.

My most satisfying moment during and after a concert is seeing students excel at their performance. The feeling of accomplishment that comes after a well-delivered performance during a concert can have long-lasting effects and have great influence in increasing a student’s love for music.