By Lauren Davis
When Elizabeth Hearn first started teaching at Ole Miss last fall, she had no idea the strong impact she could make on her choral students and colleagues.
Hearn is the newest conductor in the choral department at Ole Miss, replacing Debra Spurgeon who retired from the University of Mississippi in May 2018. In addition to conducting, she also teaches some lecture courses within the undergraduate and graduate choral music education programs at Ole Miss. One of the things that she teaches all of her students is that people matter. She believes that when conductors get so focused on the finished product, they sometimes forget about the people making the music and their individual wants and needs.
“I always teach my students, especially my undergraduate students, when you lose sight of the students and start making decisions that aren’t based on what is in the students’ best interest, that’s when things become problematic for teachers,” she said.
A recent Ph.D. graduate of the University of Alabama, Hearn is no stranger to conducting and teaching music. Her mother was a music teacher and her family home was and is always filled with music. The mother of two says that her home life is a musical and that music is a major aspect of her family.
“I sing to wake the children up, to put them to bed, and we’re always listening to music,” she said.
During her time as an undergraduate student, she performed several different pieces. Her favorite performance as a chorister was the “Verdi Requiem” by Giuseppe Verdi. A requiem is a mass for the dead, and this piece Hearn performed was dedicated to her grandmother who passed before she performed this piece.
“The second movement is loud and powerful and is just fun so to sing,” she said.
One of her favorite musical memories was when she was teaching at a small liberal arts college in Indianapolis, Indiana. She took her students to New York City to perform at Lincoln Center. Following the performance, they stopped and began to sing an arrangement of “Amazing Grace” and “Something in the Water” by Carrie Underwood in the middle of a busy Times Square. Hearn said that people began to stop and listen, forming a large crowd around them. To her, that was one of her crowning musical moments – experiencing the power of music to draw people, even strangers, together for a moment of shared joy.
Hearn loves to teach music to others because she believes that singing is something anyone can do. She believes the team-oriented style of choral music makes teaching music very valuable. People get caught up in promoting other positive aspects of what teaching music can do for people, but the music is what makes the sense of community and shared meaning for students.
“Those moments, for some students, are very rare in their life, so it’s a place where they can come, be themselves and feel safe and successful,” she said.
She has been greatly received by the students and faculty within the choral department. Donald Trott, head of choral activities at Ole Miss, said that his experience working with her for the past three months has been quite remarkable. Trott said that she offers a great deal of experience to the department.
“She has contributed immensely, and it has been very rewarding to work with her and become great colleagues with her,” he said.
Hearn also serves as the chapter advisor of the American Choral Director’s Association chapter at Ole Miss. The chapter has been dormant for several years, and Trott decided to revamp it this year when Hearn took it over after she started teaching. The secretary of ACDA, Kathrine Pignataro, says that Hearn’s involvement with the chapter has brought maturity and knowledge to the group. This is Pignataro’s first year as being secretary, and she said that Hearn’s supportiveness has given her new-found confidence in her leadership skills.
“She appointed me into this role, and being in this role has given me new leadership within the department. It has given me some confidence that I’ll be able to take with me when I graduate,” Pignataro said.
Hearn said she has thoroughly enjoyed the past three months at Ole Miss, and everyone she has met has been so gracious to her.