SPOTLIGHT: Carolyn Nelson

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Profession: music teacher and composer






What’s your musical background?

I started piano lessons at age 5. My father was quite a wonderful pianist as well as the choir director at Grace Baptist. Because of his encouragement to “get involved” I began helping out in the kids clubs at church, learned the guitar so we could have worship in our youth group, and played the piano for my choir and drama departments in high school. I was the accompanist in our high school productions of Bye Bye Birdie and South Pacific and fell in love with “live theatre”. Over the years I have been involved in many aspects of piano playing whether it be in schools, theatre, family gatherings, local churches, or private venues. I have also been a high school and community college music teacher.

What do you love most about it?

I love being able to play to enrich and bless someone’s life with music that I can fill with passion and joy. I love that I have the opportunity to coach students in learning piano. I also love to make people laugh with my music (and silly antics, at times!)

How do you encourage musical creativity with your students and others?

One area I love to help my students (and others) see and experience is what I call the “character” of a song. In music terms–we call expression in music dynamics–but I call it much more than that. I love to help people see the intricate and extraordinary beauty in what our Creator has given us in song. Music should never be boring, but rather fun and interesting for the pianist to play as well as their audience to listen to. One of my favorite things to do is find a short story and have my students create music that goes with the story! 

Are there other areas of your life where you exercise creativity?

Cooking and decorating our home. I have always dreamed of either owning/running a restaurant called the Muffin Ma’am (soups, salads, breads) or having an Air BnB!

SPOTLIGHT: Katie Sullivan


Age: 40 (what?! I feel like I’m still 12 inside!)





What’s your background in music?

I began picking out tunes on a mini keyboard my sister got for Christmas when I was 6 years old and my parents noticed that I had an ear for music and encouraged me to take piano lessons. A year later they bought a piano for me which they couldn’t really afford so that I could have a real piano to practice on. I took piano lessons until I was 15. I also sang in a children’s choir and did musical theatre in junior high. I never thought I would be a professional musician or teacher. I just played the piano and sang because I enjoyed it. I did not like performing but while in high school I also was encouraged by my youth pastor to join the high school worship band. 

I took general ed classes when I started at Hancock and asked God what He wanted me to do. The easiest classes were music and since I enjoyed them I majored in music and transferred to UC Santa Barbara into their music program as a vocal and piano major. After college I accepted a music position and taught 5th grade music and 16 choirs in my first two years of teaching. I started private piano and voice lessons, and have been consistently doing that since. 

What do you love most about it?

I love creating joyful beautiful sounds and putting emotion and feeling into the pieces that I play and sing. I love how corporately a group of people can participate in expressing themselves together with singing or playing and how much joy it brings to everyone. I know that people listening to music can experience joy, and I hope people can get joy from creating music too. Music is a language that God has given humans to express themselves and create beauty to glorify Him. 

How do you encourage your students to be creative in music?

First and foremost I want them to participate. I don’t care so much about the product of what they can create. I want to make a safe place where students can feel comfortable trying new things and expressing themselves. I try new things in front of them, I make mistakes in front of them, and move forward and show them that making mistakes is part of the process of creating beautiful music. 

Are there other areas where you exercise creativity?

I was raised with a sketchpad in hand and although it didn’t come naturally, I loved drawing and painting and it brought joy to me. I love teaching art lessons in my kids’ classrooms. I also have helped as a vocal director and assistant director for our district’s musical theatre for the past few years. Since my kids were little, we have had dance parties. Mostly they are impromptu, but some have been choreographed!