Kathe Jordan, music instructor in Albany’s three elementary schools, has taught in the city since the last millennium—she started working with fourth and fifth grade choirs here in 1999.
When Jordan was in high school, she taught herself to play guitar. She played rock, folk rock and bluegrass. When she went to college at UC Berkeley, she pursued her love of literature and earned a teaching credential in English. She taught at Mt. Diablo and Clayton Valley high schools for about four years before going back to Cal for a master's in English.
While earning her master's, she had her first child, a daughter. Later, after finishing her degree, she had her son. With two small children, she didn’t want to return to teaching high school. She decided she could be near her children by teaching music in their preschool and, eventually, was teaching music at 10 East Bay preschools.
In the fall of 1999, Jordan was hired as an independent contractor by the Albany Music Boosters (a precursor to the ) to teach fourth and fifth grade choirs in the elementary schools.
Then, in 2005, the hired her to teach choir at the middle school, where she taught a sixth grade choir and a combined seventh and eighth grade choir.
While at the middle school, Jordan also taught the music class for the seventh grade elective wheel for three years. For the six-week course, she devised a curriculum about the history of American roots music, from slave songs up through rock and jazz, and included instruction in reading music and also singing popular music.
Two years ago, Jordan returned to teaching music in all three of Albany’s elementary schools. At each, she works with kindergarten through third grade students, teaching music and storytelling as part of an American Roots program. She also teaches a fourth and a fifth grade choir.
She has several goals for the older choir students.
She teaches them to read music by constructing a music theory lesson around each song they sing.
Students are given an opportunity to perform “solo” by singing a single line or measure within a song without having to carry the entire song.
Jordan said she also wants to give them experience singing harmony.
“I taught harmony with the middle school students and, since I returned to the fourth and fifth grade choirs, I’ve been doing everything I did at the middle school. I didn’t know before how capable they were,” she said.
The elementary choir students sing traditional choir music along with popular music. They get excited to sing the music they know, such as songs by The Beatles, in harmony. Her students learn that everyone in the choir is a team player—they take responsibility for supporting each other as singers.
While Jordan shepherds these young musicians in their early training, she continues her own musical growth. She performs with the Oakland Bay Area Community Chorus, a group dedicated to the preservation of American spiritual and gospel music, which is led by the well-known .
She also recently completed her first run in a musical, by performing in the Contra Costa Civic Theater’s production of Big River, and plans to perform in more.
Kathe Jordan’s breadth of experience and love of music is a model for all her students—from those who find themselves pursuing advanced vocal or instrumental work in high school (and beyond) to those who simply enjoy the pursuit of music for personal pleasure.
[Editor's note: This is the third in a series of profiles about Albany schools music teachers. You can also read about and . Stay tuned for the final installment in the coming months.]
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