Serving Youth Through Music

an interview with Nathaniel Kostick

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Greetings, Nathaniel. Wonder is focusing on the topic of vocation this month, and you so kindly offered to contribute a few thoughts on the subject, particularly since you’re in a rather unique (and trying) point in your education. First, can you tell us what you’re studying, where, and how long you’ve been working on this degree?

I am in the process of finishing off my teacher’s licensure in music education, and have been working towards this degree for the past five years. While deciding what degree I should pursue, I first realized that I did not feel any particular type of calling towards anything, and I did not have any clue as to what kind of work I would enjoy, or rather, not completely resent. This was the biggest issue for me, finding something that I could dedicate a chunk of my life towards. Another issue I had was the fact that I was not particularly a great student who enjoyed school. As a student, I found every way I could to get out of the school building and do my work on my own time, if I chose to do it at all. It was difficult to find meaning in it. What I did know however, was that when I was in high school, a class that I felt I did well in was Band. I wasn’t the best, but I did well.

Outside of school, I wanted to do as much as I could with the church. I went to youth events, I served behind the altar, and participated as much as I could. This did not stop after high school graduation. I began teaching, assisting Fr. Benjamin Tucci with other youth events, and strived to learn as much as I possibly could by starting a Bible Study. Eventually I realized that youth ministry would be something that I found great joy in. Unfortunately, there are not many jobs in that field. With this in mind, I knew that Seminary would be a strong possibility, not because I aimed to be a priest, but I wanted to continue to grow as much as I could. Problem was, you need at least a 4 year degree to be able to go. I was stuck.

In the end, I realized that my joy from working with youth was a must have, so I had to decide what to do with that. I wanted something that included my faith (who wouldn’t), but had a hard time finding it. When I realized that I enjoyed music in high school, the thought process literally went “youth + music = Music Education.” And so it began (at least for now!).

With a degree in music education, and presumably a future career in the field, how is this relevant to you? To your identity, to your faith? Is music just something that you’re good at? Do you see yourself contributing to our society through this position? Elaborate a bit on the significance of music education.

College really tested me in a way that measured my commitment to music. I realized about half way through that a lot of the staff seemed to expect music to be the center of my life, which in hindsight makes sense, if you’re trying to be a professional in that field. However, I tried to base my faith as the center of my life and sought music only as something I enjoyed. When these ideas clashed, music became a chore, and at times, I lost my desire. School becomes difficult when you don’t have the same passion as the ones trying to teach you. Granted, music has a great history in the faith, but college is primarily concerned about western music, so tying music to my faith at school was a difficult thing to do. Also, unless I teach in a private school, overtly bringing faith into the classroom can be problematic.

Before I start to sound like a music hater, let me say music is a wonderful subject. It is a major factor in every culture around the world. In music, students can learn to express themselves in ways words cannot, and convey feelings towards an audience based on a story that a composer wrote about. Music can be correlated with other subjects. For example: Math, Reading, Science, Physical education, History, Language classes, etc. Music gets students moving, creating, performing, observing, critically thinking, empathizing, working cooperatively. When I think about the importance of music education in the classroom, I’m still at the point of observation, but the benefits are definitely there, and students enjoy it. I am glad that I’ll be able to work with students in this field. I struggle however, to connect it with my faith. At this point, all I can do is take to heart the lifestyle of being Orthodox and follow the old saying: “Preach the Gospel at all times ~ and when necessary, use words.” Obviously, I can’t (and would not want to) evangelize. But certainly I aim to witness to my faith in some quiet way. Music education seems to be a venue for this, but I have not yet worked out the details.

Do you understand teaching music to be a social ministry of sorts?

Absolutely. There’s a saying that says “you become who you surround yourself with.” Other than parents, teachers are a major support system for a child growing up and are incredibly influential. We all have that one teacher we look back and remember, not always because they changed our lives, but they were cool, or easy going, and really clicked with who we were at the time. We didn’t know it then, but we create who we want to be by taking the traits we desire from others. Much of the time it’s from our friends, but adults impact students much more than we recognize.

Another great thing is that band (all music) brings the community together. Students with different personalities, backgrounds, interests, and agendas come together to create one sound. They listen, learn, and react to each other, to eventually encourage the community to come and listen as one. I think it is really cool when the community can come and see the improvement that the students have made, and be impacted by the music being performed.

Like I said, the benefits of children being in music are there. It’s just hard for me to connect that work life to my life in Christ when so much of it become a distraction and burden. I don’t see myself contributing to our church at the moment through this position other than the expansion of my abilities and strengths that I have working with youth. Later, after some debt is cleared, we will see. But this is only the beginning.

How have you pushed through the struggles and frustrations to finish your journey? Have you considered giving up? What makes you keep going?

As many know, through one semester I have struggled with cancer, yet continued the bare minimum full time amount of classes (cutting classes when I was sick on chemo) and working with the faculty to continue to make it work. What seems to be most surprising to a lot of people is this was not my toughest moments in school

As I progressed through college, my main instrument was the trumpet. Again, I was not the best, but I was good. One difficulty I had was my schools desire to make all education majors play at a certain level of performance. The lessons, and recitals, and juries, and band, and all the extra stuff on top of learning to teach. To me, it all seemed like busy work that just got in the way of important stuff.

Another problem I had with my school and the motivation of teaching, was that the school focused less on practices that benefit the students education, and more on the philosophy of what it means to be a good teacher. I can’t tell you how many lectures on the “empathetic” or “student centered” teacher I’ve sat through. I want practicality. I want stuff I can use. I don’t want to land my first job and have to start from square one on classroom management. I want to learn what teachers have done to be successful, and build from there. Call me lazy, but it would sure save five years.

I’ve wanted to quit, and honestly the only thing that stopped me was the idea of finding a less glamorous job, with a great pile of private school debt, and nothing to show for it. I was in it, and I was stuck. It seems wise to finish what I have started, despite the challenges.

Do you see the roll of band teacher as doing God’s will?

I don’t know God’s will. I enjoy working with students, and for now that’s all it is. I’ve found something that I can commit to for a while. Life? Maybe, but I don’t wake up in the morning dreading to go to school. It’s different being the one passing out the homework rather than receiving it! I don’t know what God has planned. I’d still like to be a youth director of sorts, or travel. But this is where I am, and I’m ok with it. Hopefully, God is too. Like I said, I don’t feel “called,” and I’m not entirely sure what it would feel like if I were, but being a band teacher is rather enjoyable.