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Choir teacher uses passion for music to build student bonds

{img:10471}There’s an adrenaline rush for Kristen Caldwell when it comes to directing choir. New to Scappoose this year, she took over for Jo Routh as the school district’s choir director.

One Monday, a smile crosses her face as she flicks her wrist and her students’ voices rise and swell as the music flows. Her bubbly personality is one that her student’s don’t get tired of — the way she’ll compare a folk song to the popular movie trilogy “The Lord of the Rings,” or make the choir laugh by the facial expressions she makes. She tells them they need to strive for something greater, something she can see.

Originally born in Dallas, Texas, Caldwell has been around music all her life.

“I don’t remember a time when I didn’t enjoy music.” she said. “There was no sort of dawning realization of ‘Oh, this is something that I like.’ It was always a part of who I am.”

In seventh grade she got really involved in choir. Then, in 11th and 12th grades, she joined jazz choir and concert. Those choices greatly shaped her. For her career inspiration, she chose her high school choir teacher.

“I didn’t really have a close relationship with him, but he was a great choir teacher and pushed us really hard, which I appreciated,” she said.

She moved to Norman, Okla., to go to the University of Oklahoma, and majored in voice, with a minor in professional writing. When asked if she liked music more than writing, Caldwell chuckled.

“Yeah, I like music more,” she said. “In fact, I started a graduate program in writing, and then it didn’t spark that fire in me like music did.”

There is no doubt that music is her passion. She can talk about and listen to music all day. She said she would have always been involved in music — as a singer, and especially as a listener — even if she went down a different career path.

One of her musical inspirations is Patty Griffin.

“I don’t pretend to have a voice like hers. But I love the way she weaves together emotion and a story in her songs.”

Her choir is like a family, and new kids are welcomed and slid right into the class. She gives each student an opportunity to show what they are made of and builds bonds between the students through different activities, like a weekend together or a class trip.

One of the activities that brought them close involved writing compliments on a sheet of paper for each person and passing it to the next. They respect her because she has been right there where they are.

When Caldwell was in the Portland Symphonic Choir, she had the opportunity to have a solo, but when the time came, she was so nervous. Knowing this, the choir isn’t afraid, realizing they have someone who can relate to their fears.

Kristen Caldwell came from Texas — where everything is bigger — but settled in Scappoose, a small town with big voices.

(Nicki Schumacher is a senior at Scappoose High School where she is involved with the jazz choir, chamber choir, symphonic band and the recently formed school newspaper club. She plans to attend Brigham Young University-Idaho this fall, majoring in communications with a focus on news and journalism.)