Tag Archives: music education

Suzanne Sherman: Sing Daily!

Suzanne Sherman Propp loves to sing.

At Staples High School, the 1981 graduate sang in the Orphenians and choir. (She also played violin in the chamber orchestra, acted in Players, and was a cheerleader. She does not realize there are only 24 hours in a day.)

At Colgate University — where she majored in music and English — Suzanne led the a cappella Swinging ‘Gates group (and continued to play violin).

She then spent a year in Utah, working at an Alta ski lodge in the bar, at the front desk, and playing music.

Back in Westport, she accompanied herself on guitar at coffeehouses like Grassroots.

Suzanne went on to earn an MBA at Columbia University — and leveraged it to work in the music industry. She worked in new business development for a record label, and for Mark Spector — a Westport resident who was Joan Baez’s manager.

A casual conversation with 3 of her former Staples teachers — Dave Harrison, Dick Leonard and Phil Woodruff — at a Christmas carol sing (!) inspired her to change careers. They wondered why she wasn’t teaching.

Suzanne was certified in 1998. The next year she was hired to be Greens Farms Elementary School’s (surprise!) music teacher. She’s been there ever since.

Suzanne Sherman Propp

Suzanne’s more-than-24-hour days — which included raising 2 children — leave her plenty of time to spend on her newest project: Sing Daily!

Every day, Suzanne picks a song. She posts it on her website, and emails it to subscribers. After (hopefully) warming up their voices, everyone is invited to sing her Song of the Day.

“Singing makes you feel better,” Suzanne explains. “It livens your spirit. I see it every day in school. It’s been proven by studies. Everybody should sing every day!”

Suzanne Sherman Propp (center, in back wearing a hat) with young singers.

But — the morning shower aside — we don’t really know what or where to sing. And — lacking Suzanne’s beautiful voice — most of us are intimidated belting out a tune.

So Suzanne helps us along. She’s curated a varied list. There’s “Home on the Range,” and the Black Eyed Peas’ “Where is the Love?”

Every genre is represented. There are songs by Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Pete Townshend, the Indigo Girls, Herman’s Hermits, Billy Joel and (of course) Joan Baez. She includes a few original songs too, but downplays their importance. “I’m not trying to sell anything,” Suzanne notes.

Sometimes there are obvious tie-ins. On her husband Peter’s birthday, Suzanne wrote a special song for him. (Of course — why not?! — she also created an accompanying YouTube video).

She’ll celebrate holidays and special occasions. But sometimes, they’ll be secret. For example, the Greens Farms principal loves “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” That will be the Song of the Day on his birthday — though no one will know why.

Suzanne welcomes suggestions. “There are 365 days in a year. That’s a lot of songs!” she says.

She launched her project without a lot of publicity. Still, it’s found plenty of fans. One is her mother, Ruth Sherman. “She’s not a singer,” Suzanne says. “But she loves it!”

That’s the whole idea. You don’t have to be a singer. You just have to sing.

Actually, I’m wrong.

“Everyone is a singer!” Suzanne insists. “Try it. Your life will change!”

(Click here for Suzanne Sherman Propp’s Sing Daily! website.)

Sarah Guterman: Celebrating 39 Years Of Musical Wonder

Sarah Guterman always wanted to teach.

She wanted to teach in an elementary school classroom. She wanted to teach music. She wanted to give children the same love for rhythms, melodies, songs and stories that she’d enjoyed growing up.

For 39 years, she’s done just that.

Sarah Guterman, doing what she loves: teaching music.

Sarah Guterman, doing what she loves: teaching music.

As a kid in Mamaroneck, her family — including her Episcopalian minister father — gathered around the piano. Sarah’s mother — a 2nd grade teacher — played.

Sarah graduated from Skidmore in 1975, when there was a glut of teachers. She received 3 offers, though, and chose Westport because — located right on the Sound — it felt like home.

“Of course, I couldn’t afford to live here!” she laughs.

Her 1st job was at Hillspoint Elementary School. Then it closed.

She moved on to Burr Farms El. It closed too.

Her 3rd position was Green’s Farms. Unbelievably, it closed. “Whenever I got to a new school, people panicked!” she says.

She transferred to Long Lots, when it was K-8. She taught music in the hallway, then had a 3rd grade class.

When a job opened up at Kings Highway 25 years ago, Sarah had a choice: music or classroom. She chose music, and never regretted it.

Sarah Guterman's Kings Highway classroom is packed with musical "stuff."

Sarah Guterman’s Kings Highway classroom is packed with musical “stuff.”

“This school has a warmth to it,” she says. “It’s very supportive — the parents and the staff.”

The building is “challenging” — there have been ceiling issues, and a room was closed — but “the people are amazing. I’d take people over the physical plant any day of the week.”

Her passion is bringing children’s literature into the music room. She does it in many ways, including Readers Theater. Sarah explains, “I look for things in books like quatrains that can be sung.”

A strong advocate of the Orff Schulwerk music philosophy — she’s been past president of Connecticut’s OS association, and presents nationally on the curriculum — she appreciates that it “empowers children. They learn to work as a team, be flexible and make adjustments.” They do this by using many instruments, and utilizing rhythm and patterns via speech and movement.

A sign in Sarah Guterman's classroom says it all.

A sign in Sarah Guterman’s classroom says it all.

In recent years, though, music education — much of education, in fact — has run headlong into standardized testing.

“The new state initiatives this year hit me hard,” Sarah admits. “I had to test kids on stuff I hadn’t taught, like note-reading, to prove later that I actually did teach it. For the first time ever, I had kids crying.”

The result, she says, is that “the whimsy” has been taken out of music education.

“Music is an art,” Sarah insists. “To use paper and pen to show data …” She shakes her head in disbelief.

“We’re treating children like a product from a factory,” she continues.

“Well, they’re not. They’re living, breathing organisms.”

State initiatives — and a national push toward testing — are a major reason Sarah is retiring this month. “After 39 years, if I can’t teach my best — it’s time,” she says.

Throughout her career, she has loved the freedom Westport gave her and her colleagues. “We’ve been able to develop our own school cultures and passions,” she says.

Sarah Guterman and fellow music teacher Carrie Kohlun plan upcoming lessons.

Sarah Guterman and fellow music teacher Carrie Kohlun plan upcoming lessons.

For example, Sarah’s choruses have produced plays. She’s done recorder ensembles, and dance. She’s given up plenty of free time to do it. But she does it because it’s what she’s always wanted to do.

“I love seeing a child skip out of my room saying, ‘That was fun!'” Sarah says. “It feels good to deliver a good lesson, but have them feel like they were playing. We need playfulness at the elementary level.”

In retirement, Sarah is not leaving children behind. She’ll head to Italy, but when she returns she looks forward to bringing picture books to life through “guest artist gigs.”

Sarah smiles. She sums up 4 decades of teaching — all of it in Westport’s elementary schools — very simply.

“What a dream!” she says. “I’ve been able to come to work, sing and tell stories!”

And thousands of boys and girls — some of them now men and women — are better human beings for Sarah Guterman’s passionate, creative and loving “work.”