Featured Teacher: Scott Melvin (Mater Dei High School)

Scott Melvin As part of a new recurring series, Chromatik will feature teachers of excellence, who in addition to using our platform, go above and beyond the call to bring music education into the lives of students. We are very happy for our first Featured Teacher to be Scott Melvin of Mater Dei High School.

The Road to Teaching: It was pretty simple. I got into music and theater and kind of fell in love with it in high school. I got a lot of opportunities as a student director when I was in high school. I was born and raised in Colorado, but I ended up touring Chapman University and I fell in love with their choir. So I decided to pursue that at Chapman and it was awesome. It was one of the greatest opportunities. Then I landed at a really great school called Mater Dei and it’s been going on since then.

Years Teaching: 9

On Teaching at Mater Dei: The most important thing that Mater Dei has got going is that everybody pushes for excellence. There’s no slouching at the school. The kids that are coming into the programs are expecting excellence and they expect that from us. We’re able to give that right back at them. There’s a no-holds-barred type of idea and there are a lot of resources as well as a great supporting administration. It makes it a lot easier to make music.

What makes you a special teacher?: I think if you go in knowing your stuff and not giving excuses for your students, they work that much harder for you. I get really tired of people saying, “They’re just high school students.” I think the kids respond really well to knowing that’s not what we view of them. We expect them to be on a college level.

On Teaching at a High School Level: I have taught at the college level as well and it’s just a different beast. The kids [in high school] as just eager to learn, eager to grow, and they’re just hungry for everything you throw at them. It’s really invigorating to help kids realize that even if music and the arts are not something that they’ll do professionally, it can still be a part of their lives for the rest of their life because of the experiences they had in this program. It’s really cool to just see them push and push and push.

Defining Career Moments: I always tell the students that the most musical moments that happen are in the classroom and in rehearsal. But I think the signature moment is the first time that I took them into the Sistine Chapel and had a private audience there. It was just amazing. We’ve been able to do that a couple of times now and we were able to hire an orchestra in Rome to do some major works with the kids. We did Schubert’s “Mass in G” and Haydn’s “Paukenmesse.” Then this year we’ve been invited to sing at Carnegie Hall. We’ll be a featured choir for that so it will be exciting. So I’d so those are my capstones professionally.

If you could only teach one piece of music for the rest of your career, what would it would be?: That’s one of the hardest things to answer. I read an interview once where Robert Shaw someone asked him what his favorite piece of choral music was and he said, “Well the one I’m working on right now!” I’ve always tried to live with that mantra because there is music out there that is just terrible that you have to do. If you go forward with the fact that you’re putting up something that people have to enjoy, it sells a lot easier. We just had a piece written for us called “A Red, Red Rose” by Richard Burchard, which we’re going to be singing again this year. I absolutely love it. I’m a big Brahms and fan too, a big romantic. I also love Palestrina.

What makes a great student?: I think that they have a feeling from the faculty and staff as well as from their parents that they’re worth it. People are there behind them. They’ve got people that love and respect them. Thus, they want to work that much harder. I’ve been in other situations where the home life is not the most supportive in the world and you can tell kids are just yearning for some type of validation. On average, most of the kids at Mater Dei have noticed that there is somebody behind them that are saying, “You’re strong enough. You’re worth the extra tuition. You’re worth driving the extra miles.” They in turn give the gift back by working hard for them.

Typical Day in the Classroom: It’s different every day. It’s such a living, breathing thing that I’ll go in with a lesson plan and come out with something totally different from what I have planned. You can tell if the kids are tired or if they all had a big football game they had to go to the night before. You have this wonderful plan going in and then everything changes. I try to mix in as much music theory and vocal development as I can in the course of working through the music. We just try to plow through music as much as we can and get them singing as much we can. We try not to labor on the minutia so we can get them singing and as expressive as we can.

Important Musical Takeaways: My director at Chapman would say, “There’s nothing more boring than a choir concert.” This comes from a choir guy that’s been doing it for 40 years [laughs]. So many people just mark through the music and they’re just incredibly un-musical with it. I’m a firm believer that we’re going to have some tuning issues every now and then and there might be a wrong note, but at least there are going to be those moments that are musical and are expressive. I tell the kids to never not be musical.

Looking Forward: I’m really looking forward to Carnegie; that’s going to be awesome. We’re also planning a river cruise down the Danube with the kids, which is just going to be nuts. Then we’re doing this concert at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts with alumni and an honor choir that we formed for the Diocese of Orange. We’re going to have 400-500 singers doing Fauré’s “Requiem,” which will be very cool. So I’m excited to branch out and get alumni back involved.

Check out more about the Mater Dei Choral Program here!