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Audrey Levine

When I was a little girl and I was asked the familiar question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I always said, "I'm gonna be a teacher." However, when asked that same question as a teenager, I always said, "I'm gonna be a great singer, piano player, and songwriter." It turns out that I must have been psychic because my profession includes all of the above.

Although I have been visually impaired all of my life, I had always gone to public schools. I received my undergraduate degree in music business from New York University and my masters in music performance from Hunter College in 1997.

I am currently employed as a music teacher at Manhattan Comprehensive Night & Day High School, a New York City public school. All of the students in the school are between the ages of 17 and 21, and all receive a regular New York State Regents diploma. The students who attend school between 10:15 AM and 4:15 PM are all learning English as a second language. They come from 44 different countries. The students who attend school from 5 PM to 10:45 PM are all returnees; that is, these students didn't graduate when they were supposed to. All the students take academic courses to achieve their Regents diplomas.

I teach from 1 to 8:15 PM; therefore, I work with both groups. Fortunately, I have a colleague who has an extensive background in foreign languages and is quite comfortable working with students who speak very little English. I work with the more advanced students during the day, and I have designed a specialized curriculum that the night students enjoy.

When I arrive at 12:45 PM, I teach a few students who speak limited English how to sing some American songs. We first go through the songs, defining words that they may not understand. I spend the next two periods with a student aide who reads various things to me: school mail, Billboard (the Music Industry trade magazine), or various items on the Internet (such as song lyrics).

At 3:25, the school chorus gathers for its class. We begin with some physical stretching and relaxation exercises and then sing some vocal warm-ups, and then get to our rehearsal. From 4:15 until 5 o'clock, I become the most popular teacher in the school. Since the school day is over for the day students and not yet begun for the night students, both groups stop by to sing, or catch up on notes they missed, or just talk. I love that they come and bring their brothers, sisters, cousins, best friends, etc. If I have to use the bathroom or go to a meeting, they protest and even bang on the piano until I come back. I have to lock the piano to save it from being destroyed.

At 5 o'clock (first period for the night students), I team-teach a course called "Professional Musicianship." We are teaching the students how to play the piano, the guitar, or sing. Most importantly, the students are learning how to sight-read, and also to write down what they hear. My colleague goes home after this class because he comes in earlier than I do. Therefore, the night students' classes are my domain. Since the students are of the older, urban variety, they do not like to sing, and they would tune out if I gave a course on dead composers. Consequently, I designed a curriculum that teaches the various aspects of the music industry. The course is based on the premise that "Every song you hear on the radio is a product on the market." As a result, the students learn about the process of the song from the time it is born in a person's head to the time a person purchases it in a store. The class on the music industry is my favorite because it is my brainchild. I believe that nobody else in the New York City Department of Education is teaching anything like it.

I keep my attendance records in Braille. I call the students' names at the beginning of class so I know who is there and where they are sitting; a student volunteer fills in the bubble sheet for the school's records. I have a volunteer student write the notes on the board, so the entire class can get what I dictate.

In addition to my job at Manhattan Comp., I am the founder and director of Add Joy to Learning, a nonprofit program dedicated to teaching urban youth the various aspects of the music industry. Every Friday, a guest comes in to speak about what he or she does, how he or she got to doing what they do, and the students ask questions about the career discussed. A recent guest, for example, was a comptroller from a record label; he brought a sample Artist Royalty statement, and the students learned about how a recording artist gets paid. Future guests will include a songwriter, a studio musician, an attorney, a publicist, and other label executives. For more information about Add Joy to Learning, please visit our
Web Site
or phone me at (212) 995-1137, or you can e-mail me at

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