Paige Johnson (PJ): Why did you choose those two majors as your majors?
Alyssa Impullitti (AI): I started out as a vocal education major my freshman year. I knew very, very passionately that I wanted to teach music since I was, like, 15. In high school, I started band and I loved it. I kept playing percussion — that’s my instrument — I kept playing percussion in my freshman year even though I was a vocal major. I really got comfortable in the band world over here. I got to know the percussion teacher and I just decided, you know, I think I could really benefit from having a totally separate degree for the instrumental track. On top of the experiences that I’ve gotten, I’m also planning on moving over to Minnesota to start teaching. Fun fact about teaching in Minnesota is that you cannot teach your minor. You cannot be certified to teach a minor. So, if I was having just my vocal music ed major, it would come with an instrumental music minor. But you cannot teach a minor in Minnesota. So I said, no way. I want to be able to teach any type of music that I can.
PJ: Are you partial to either vocal or instrumental, or do you like them both equally?
AI: You know, I got into this talk not too long ago. It must have been the other day with my mom. I was just saying, I dread the day that I have to choose. Because I know it’s going to happen some time in my career. It’s just going to be like, this is a job I have and guess I’m a band teacher now or guess I’m a choir teacher now. My heart hurts thinking that I would have to let go of one. But, you know, I don’t have to. I just, no, I can’t choose. I could never. I guess I’m not really partial to an instrument, I’m just partial to students. I just want to be with kids.
PJ: Do you want to teach elementary, middle or high school? College?
AI: I really love middle school.
PJ: Not many people do!
AI: That’s true, but you know what, since I started taking educational psychology classes and other lifespan development and other classes like that, I’m just like, “Wow, puberty is like a real deal.” It really affects those kids. Honestly, I can’t think of a person that doesn’t go back to remember their middle school years and say, “This adult was there for me when I needed an adult.” Those kids need the guidance the most. I imagine that I’ll spend a lot more time researching that stage of development and really making that my career focus. I’d love to teach middle school.
PJ: Well, good for you! Like I said, no one really wants to.
AI: It requires a certain type of patience… I don’t want to say patience, cause it’s kind of just like – I guess what I’m thinking of is not patience, but flexibility. Because your students are changing so quickly. They’re changing their worldview and they’re learning that, “Oh, I’m not alone here. There are other people.” And the minute they realize that there are other people, it’s like, [gasp] “Oh my God, there’s other people. They might be watching me, they might be judging me.” It’s scary!
Crazy kids. They’re so funny, oh my God. When’s the last time you hung out with some middle school kids?
PJ: Probably not since middle school.
AI: I’m telling you, they’re hilarious. They are so – because their brain is just [phew phew hand gestures] and they have literally no filter. Literally, their brain is not fully developed so they don’t have a filter. So they’ll just make jokes and it’s like, “Where did you – ?” You just can’t help but laugh at everything because it just comes out of nowhere.
PJ: Have you started student teaching as part of that?
AI: I guess if you consider classroom observation. Student teaching is actually an entire semester where you don’t even come to campus very often. You come for a meeting or something like that, but I’ll be student teaching next semester. And then I graduate after that. I’m actually going to be going over to Minneapolis to do my student teaching. Basically, when you student teach it’s different than when you do regular observations. So, for an education major, throughout your undergrad you have to do a certain amount of hours for each of your education classes. Where you go to a local school – you’re usually assigned to a teacher – and you go to their classroom for a certain numbers of hours and you get to just watch. Just watch what they do. And if they invite you to, like, “Hey, you can teach a lesson or you can grade these papers” – which they do a lot. But that’s okay. You get kind of a taste of different age groups and what different teachers like to do. That’s sort of your observations in your undergrad. And then you go on to do your student teaching, where you’re actually a lot more involved in the classroom. You do lessons every day and maybe you have your own ensemble, for music. Maybe you do ninth grade band or women’s choir or something like that. It’s a lot more hands on. I’m pretty excited for that.
PJ: Do you know what school you’re going to be at?
AI: Yeah! I just got my placement. It’s going to be in Shakopee, Minnesota, which is southwest of the Cities. It’s right outside of Minneapolis. And then for high school, I’m going to be at Maple Grove High School.
PJ: Have you always wanted to major in vocal and instrumental education?
AI: Since the dawn of time or since I came to NDSU?
PJ: Yeah, did you switch your major at all since you came to NDSU?
AI: Nope. No, ma’am. I’ll give you the backstory:
I’m from Michigan. Originally from Michigan. Southeastern Michigan, it’s like outside of Detroit. In a town called South Lyon. Which, in Michigan, less than 10,000 people is a tiny town. So, my high school was a brand new high school. I was, like, what, the fourth class to graduate from there? It was kind of like a struggling music program because it was a brand new school. There were no traditions. We got a new teacher every year. I remember having this wonderment of music and how beautiful it is and how much fun it is to sing, I was just determined to be in choir and be always doing music. I just saw my friends get discouraged. They didn’t like the teacher or they didn’t like that the teacher was changing every year. All my friends started leaving choir. I just, I had this, you know what, this isn’t how it should be. Every kid should like – and I realized, like, wow, music education really impacts students. Because I saw it happen to my own friends. How it affected them. I was a 15 year old and I said, “You know what, I think I’m going to teach music some day.” I’ve been pretty steady on that one. It’s been about the only thing in my life that hasn’t changed in a long time. But we’re young. Our lives change a lot, I guess.
PJ: What’s a normal day for you in the music department?
AI: Well. In general, I would say a normal day – like from freshman year to now, an average, normal day – would probably be like anywhere from four to eight classes in a day. Very busy. It’s very busy. Because you have ensemble rehearsals almost every day. Almost all ensembles rehearse at least twice a week. So, for four years I was in concert choir and they rehearse every single day. In the middle of the day and then you would have maybe opera or I would percussion ensemble or marching band, or some other ensemble rehearsal in one day. At least two ensembles in one day. Sounds about right. Start real early. Always had class at eight. I’ve always had class at eight. Every single year. It’s never failed. I’ve never had a semester where – well, this semester’s different because it’s my last semester. This semester’s a little bit more relaxed. Usually, four to six classes a day. Maybe two ensemble rehearsals. Whatever time you have in between, you hopefully have time to eat. And then, maybe two hours practicing, per day. It’s busy. It’s very busy. But you know, you say, “I love this building.” It’s kind of like a house. It’s like a house. Everyone who lives here, we all say, “Well, I live here so I’ll see you around.” We all get to know each other really well. It’s like, you feel comfortable here. It’s a little bit different than going to the Union, or something. Just because we see each other every day. We’re here all day long and we go to all the – you know, if there’s a symphony concert on the weekend, we’ll all go to the symphony. If somebody’s having a student recital in Beckwith, we’ll all be at the recital. It’s very much like a home and a family. It’s easy to stay busy, most of the time.
PJ: What’s been your favorite part about either your major or the program at NDSU?
AI: Oh my gosh, do you as everyone that question? My favorite thing about this program is what it has done – I don’t want to be super selfish, but I see it happen to other people too – being a part of this program, specifically music education (obviously that’s my experience) is just the journey of discovering who you are as a teacher and discovering the confidence that you can be a teacher and the confidence that you can do it as your career. And I’ve just felt challenged and sometimes I’ve challenged myself a little too much. I’ve had so many professors here that have just shown me the light so many times, over and over. They’ve been doing it for over 25 years. That, that’s gotta be my favorite thing about going to school year is just learning the confidence to just really form my career. That’s kinda deep. It’s not really like, “I like the people!” or “I like the teachers!” Cause it’s like, I’ve spent so many hours in this building. I’m going to get all sentimental and cry now! But I’ve changed so much every year and I’m happy that I came here to learn all that stuff.
PJ: Being from Michigan, why did you choose to come to NDSU?
AI: I should be honest. I’ll be honest. You know, when I was in high school, my family and I we were not very good. My parents were not doing very good. I was not on good terms with my mom. And she was – was, I say was! She’s not this way anymore – but she was very… There’s a textbook term that’s literally called a “helicopter parent.” Have you heard of that? I felt that way about my mom when I was in high school. I felt always, constantly guarded and watched by her. It made me feel like, “God, I don’t know if I can do college when my mom and I have this relationship and when my parents have this relationship.” I was ready to be independent! I applied to schools out of state. I applied to schools in-state too, because all my friends were going there. I had been even singing in a choir in the University of Michigan because I lived really close to that campus. So, I was doing youth choirs there for years. I got accepted to both the Michigan schools I applied to. But, you know, they do this thing over there called music education teacher interviews. So when you apply to go to school there, not only do you have to turn in your application and do orientation or whatever, you also have to go and do an interview. Basically, they have to find out what kind of person are you and are you fit to teach. Because, you know, if you’re really shy, maybe teaching isn’t for you. And that’s okay! So, I went there for my teacher interviews and they were very much like, “We are a Big 10 school and we are amazing. Obviously, look at the statistics. We are the best school for you and you should come here.” And I would say, “So, can I be in band?” And they’d be like, “Oh my God no, absolutely not.” And I would be like, “Okay.” Well, take that into consideration. And I came here, and I was like, so, why should I come here? Why should this be my school? And it was never, ever anything like that. It was never, “We’re really awesome.” It was like, “Oh, you know, we really focus on building relationships between students and professors. Really doing our best.” That was really it. I was like, wow. Just shockingly different from going to Michigan schools. They’re obviously great schools in Michigan. They really challenge you. But, I just don’t think I would have had the opportunities I would have had there that I have here. There’s just no way I could have ever – I’ve been in the marching band, this is my fourth season in the marching band. And I did percussion ensemble for years and choir and everything, and I don’t think I would have been able to do that anywhere else. So. That’s why I chose NDSU.
PJ: What’s the biggest difference you see in traditional classrooms versus the music department?
AI: The biggest difference is that in order to really understand music, you have to go into a deeper level than you do in another classroom. I don’t claim to know anything about any other majors, and what it’s like to be an architecture major or anything like that – there’s art in everything, there’s music in everything, but you know, there are just things that you have to build a different type of relationship with your professors and with your peers because you’re making something that is so personal. Because, you know, music can’t be great if it’s not personal. If you’re singing something or if you’re playing something, you have no idea what it’s about, you’re just playing notes, than what’s the point? Then you’re just working yourself really hard for almost no intrinsic value. It just feels like, gosh, I’m spending four hours in a practice room for this music that I don’t like. You have to find something about it that means something to you, every day. And I just don’t know how many other places you find that in a school setting. We’re constantly moving around and we’re sitting in classrooms or we’re sitting in closets. I’ve had classes where there’s like four of us. Four to nine people, maybe, sometimes with these classes that are on rotation or something. The whole junior instrumental major class or something is in there, and there’s like six of us. We’re stuffed in a closet doing class. Or, you know, there’s 80 of us stuffed on a stage. Or doing some breathing gym out here in the atrium or something. You have to be flexible and you have to be willing to have personal relationships with everybody. That’s very different, I think, than some other classes that I’ve been in.
PJ: What is required of a music major?
AI: We do all have to put on recitals. It’s different, obviously, if you’re a performance major than if you’re a music education major, well, I say obviously but maybe it’s not obvious. What we do, is in our senior year – well, it doesn’t have to be in your senior year. Some people have done it in their sophomore and junior year because they wanted to. You are required to put on at least one recital. For performance majors, you have to put on one full hour of music for their recital. And they also have to put on a half hour in their junior year. So lots of performing. For music education, you do a half hour recital in your senior year. That’s sort of the basic requirement. I know some education majors who did an hour recital in their junior year and everything. We all have to put on a recital. It’s totally scary. I’m doing my percussion recital this semester. I’m so afraid. But you know, it’s part of the fun. Experiencing different things and getting nervous on stage. But then you do it! We do have to do a recital – All music education students, we have to learn how to play most of the instruments in the band. Everybody takes woodwind methods. So, you learn how to play clarinet and saxophone and you learn how to play in brass methods, you learn all of the brass instruments. You learn trumpet, trombone, tuba, French horn, everything. Then we also take percussion methods. You learn everything about percussion. Well, everything you can fit into one semester. Yeah, you learn every single instrument in the band. Which is crazy. Because, you know, you cram three or four instruments into one semester. So, you learn trombone for like three weeks. But, by the end of the three weeks, you learned the whole range of the trombone and you get it. That’s pretty cool.
PJ: Through those classes, did you discover an instrument that just you hadn’t thought about before?
AI: Yes! I love clarinet. I have a clarinet now. Someone gave it to me. Well, I say gave it to me because it felt like they did. They only gave it to me for $20! They were like, “I played it in high school.” It was like my friend’s mom. They said, “I played it in high school, I haven’t touched it.” And I was like, “Oh my God, can I have it!” Everything on it works and stuff. So I have a clarinet now. And I also really loved trombone. It’s a totally versatile instrument. And actually, I’m in a class right now where I’m learning a lot more about different instruments and their ranges and what they can do. Trombone is so cool. And it was the most easy one for me to play. It felt natural. It is so cool learning all the different instruments. Once you learn how to play them, you can start having conversations with your other friend who plays saxophone. You can be like, “I know why that’s hard for you to play!” It’s just like, lightbulb all the time. It’s great.
PJ: I would probably die. It took me two years to learn even the basics of clarinet.
AI: You were a clarinet player? I love clarinet!
PJ: Yep, back in middle school.
AI: See what I mean. Do you still have your clarinet?
PJ: No, because it was a friends.
AI: Oh, your friend of a friend who was a music teacher was like, “Gimme.” Story of my life!
PJ: Yeah, she was like, “Can I have that back?” And I was like, “Yeah, I haven’t played it in a couple years.”
AI: You should try playing clarinet again.
PJ: Oh, gosh. I just remember the reeds. Having to suck on the reeds, making sure I wasn’t wearing lipstick…
AI: Love the taste of reeds. Just awful.
PJ: Getting my little pads stuck and having to go to the store.
AI: Uh-uh. You know, your band teacher has to know how to fix all that stuff.
AI: I get to learn so many things. I can fix a reed. I think the only thing you can’t fix is a moldy reed. That’s awful. And it happens. Moldy reed. Yucky.
I mean that’s one of the things I’m more afraid of as a future band teacher. Is someone coming up to me and being like, “My saxophone’s broken!” And being like, oh, God, it’s going to take me a second to figure this out but I’m gonna fix it, Susie. I’m going to get it done. I’ll just call my friends. That’s the thing, I know someone who plays every instrument from this school. And I do not feel uncomfortable sending them a message, like, please help me fix my student’s saxophone.
PJ: As far as like the recitals go, and all those practices, what’s it like preparing for one of those?
AI: It’s just like any other performance, I should say. You feel like you’re not ready literally until the last minute. And of course, you have these catastrophic thoughts of, like, “I’m never going to do it, I’m going to totally fail.” Or some crazy thing like, “I’m gonna freeze up on stage and not finish it and not graduate!” But, I did a voice recital last semester. And I did a full hour of music for that one, so I have not done much singing since. It’s totally scary right until the last moment. Then you get on stage and you’re scared for the first song or something, and then as soon you kind of get a grasp of what’s going on, then it’s like, “Okay. This is fine. It’s going to be fine.” And then you do the rest of it. And it’s just like nothing. It flies right by. Then, suddenly, you’re like, “Oh, my gosh, this thing I’ve been thinking about twenty-four-seven for four months straight is over now. Then, you just totally don’t know what to do with yourself. Well, hopefully by then, you have finals to focus on. Preparing for a recital, lot of time during the week. Planning, you have to plan the venue and you have to pay for whatever it is you need or want to have. Some people like to have a reception afterwards, you set up cupcakes or something. I think my mom wants to do that. It’s pretty crazy. It’s worth it! It’s totally worth it!
PJ: What’s been the most challenging part of your majors?
AI: Juggling two majors. Seriously, because, you know – I shouldn’t say two majors, really, because a lot of the things overlapped. A lot of things overlapped. And, a lot of the classes that were separate for each major – so, a lot of my band classes or whatever – they didn’t feel like extra classes. Nothing ever felt like extra classes. It was the balancing two instruments, that was the hardest part. Because you want to practice every single day on your instrument. And if you have two instruments and eight classes a day, it feels impossible. Sometimes, you know, one thing got put behind and you had to catch up on that one. It was literally juggling two different instruments was really very hard. The hardest thing about being a music major, I think any of us could agree, would be learning how to be okay under a lot of scheduling and being able to get all your schoolwork done. And you want to go to those recitals. You know, your friend from choir has their senior voice recital and this might be the last time you ever hear them sing. You want to get that project done and go to their recital. That’s gotta be the biggest challenge, is scheduling.
PJ: Flip side: What’s been the most rewarding part? Or just one of the many rewarding parts of your major?
AI: I love students. I love kids. I’ve had so many opportunities to go into a classroom or go and teach private voice lessons or go hang out with a student. To feel that, in your undergrad, when you’re not actually a teacher and you’re not being paid to help this student, but they understood something! And then you’re like, “Oh!” You get a little taste of what you get to have every single day when you’re a teacher. Just the excitement of learning something. We all hate school. We all say that we hate school, but honestly learning something is so exciting and when you can give that to someone and you see them, their eyes light up or they say something…
I have to tell you this story. I was observing at a middle school and I was with eighth grade flutes, and the teacher had to go run an errand. I think he might have lied about the errand. He said, “You can have the flute sectional. Go ahead.” And I was like, “Okay!” These little eighth grade girls. There was this one girl. She was so funny, she was so animated. She would like throw her flute down when she couldn’t play. “I can’t play this!” You know? And I said to her, “What are you talking about? Of course you can! Of course you can play that! Let’s try it this way. And of course, you know, maybe try taking your flute home and just play.” And she was like, “I don’t want to play this music at home.” And I was like, “Play whatever music you want. Music is music, just grab your flute and play a song you like.” She was like, “Oh, I guess I never thought of that.” She was trying to blow it off or whatever. So we’re playing this thing that she kept saying, I can’t do this, I can’t do this. She did it. She just goes like, oh, she looks at me, “Oh my gosh, I did it!” And I was like, “Of course you did .” Her band teacher walks in and here’s what she said to him – I almost started crying – she said, “Mr. Thiel, I’m taking my flute home today.” I just about died. Those are the most rewarding moments. Just getting a taste of what you’re going to do for the rest of your life is just such a cool moment.
PJ: Is there anything that you’re going to bring with you from your college classes or observations that you’re going to bring with you to the classroom?
AI: Anything? You mean besides everything?
I have binders from classes that are full of resources. I have lists of websites. I have lists of emails of people that I’ve met. I have friends that will go with me to conventions. There are endless resources. Experience conducting, experience leading ensembles… Yeah, I’m pretty well equipped, I feel. Of course, I’m going to be a teacher for one day and be like, “I’m not ready!”
PJ: What has been your favorite class that you’ve taken?
AI: It’s such a tie. I talk about these classes all the time. It’s such a tie between elementary music methods here. Because, not only are you learning so much about teaching, you also get to play games all day. I say “get to” but it’s like, we learned songs every day and we taught each other songs and we learned how to play guitar. That class was so incredible. That one, instrumental conducting was so awesome because that was the first time I ever got to stand up in front of a band. I felt like I had a really good relationship with the professor and it was really easy to learn from him.
But I think my all-time favorite class was an education class. It was instructional planning and methods. You literally learn how to teach, literally. You learn how to organize a lesson plan and how to actually, literally execute it and see how it goes. The teacher, his name is Matthew Slokam, and he teaches at West Fargo High School full-time. He was adjunct here. He probably still is. So, he was teaching an evening class for instructional planning. He did everything right. He was a textbook education teacher. And you know, like, I’m totally spoiled now as an ed major, because every general class I go to, I feel so bad because I’m totally accidentally critical of they lecturer. I’m thinking of my education classes and I’m going, you know, they should have tried something else with that PowerPoint or maybe they should walk around a little more or speak up louder or something like that. That teacher was just so fantastic and we built relationships, like real friendships, with the other people in the class because he always made us talk to each other in different groups. We had group assignments that were actually just so much fun. I learned a lot about teaching a class. Definitely a favorite class.
PJ: For vocal and instrumental, what is your favorite piece of music?
You know what, I’m going to have to go with the sentimental ones. We’re talking about NDSU, we’re talking about my major, there have been a lot of pieces that just became super meaningful and a symbol of my experience here. I think many people could pick these songs, but: every year, instead of a holiday concert, the choirs sing an oratorio called “The Messiah.” We sing it every single year and I have been lucky enough to sing some solos in it. I know every single song from memory now. We only do it for part of the year every year. Just something about that music, and especially a few of the songs, especially the ending song. Our director, Dr. Miller, she conducts the whole thing. She has this face when she gets really emotional. It’s not like literally crying or anything, but her nose starts to turn red. She’s just the most wonderful, sweet, kind and hard-working and intelligent – like I could go on. You see her, and she starts to get emotional, you can’t sing anymore. I can’t sing anymore. Once her nose turns red, I’m like “Oh!” That music is just so, so special. I think “Messiah” probably takes the cake. We got to sing with Eric Whitacre, who is a really popular choral composer. I got to sing with the Madrigal Singers which is the smaller choral group. We had this moment with him, and I’m sure he probably didn’t even, because he probably gets to have that every single day, but maybe he doesn’t, I don’t know! We were out there, on the stage with him, and there were probably like 12 of us and him and a string quartet. We got to sing this beautiful, unbelievably beautiful music with. Just like, all of a sudden it just felt like there was nothing in the room. It was just all black. I really wish I could really describe it. You feel like you’re floating, and you know you’re singing or you’re playing and you’re there, but it’s just suddenly, you’re not there any more. You’re in a totally other place. We all got off stage after that piece, and we were just all looking at each other like, “Were you? Did you hear that? Because it was the most amazing thing.”
And then of course, I love the marching band music that we do. We play them over and over and I’m a drum major now, so I get to conduct them, and it’s just so awesome It’s literally the highlight of my day every single day. As soon as they play, they play their first chord for “On Bison” and I just, huh, my heart explodes every single time. A lot of special NDSU music that will stick with me forever.