If you’re a middle school or high school student wondering whether a career might be a good fit, we have good news for you!  For the next few weeks, our Musician Intern Team will be interviewing individuals with different careers involving music, from commercial film scorers to scientific researchers. Articles about these interviews will be posted on our website to help you explore different careers and pathways in music. 

This week, Musician Intern and TYP flutist Abby Li interviewed Lester Turner, band director at Cary Academy.  Here is what she learned: 

Mr. Lester Turner has been a music educator for the past 16 years, and he currently serves as the middle and high school band director at Cary Academy. Growing up in a musically inclined family, Mr. Turner has always had a passion for music and teaching.  Although starting music was not a hard decision, he notes “Early on, I wanted to be a visual arts teacher because I enjoyed drawing. There was someone in my neighborhood that was an animator at Disney, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever!”  However, Mr. Turner ultimately chose to pursue music education due to a variety of other reasons, but mainly because of his own experience in high school. Mr. Turner explains that at the end of his sophomore year, the band program at his school shut down due to limited funding. This incident played a key role in his decision to become a teacher since it made him truly realize the “importance of providing an opportunity for students to explore music.”

Throughout his 16 years of teaching, Mr. Turner has taught at many schools across North Carolina, including near his hometown in Wilmington, NC. Being a part of his students’ journeys has always been very exciting for him. He recalls with pride how one his first ever students now serves as President of the NC Music Educators Association! One of his fondest memories is of one during spirit week when four of his students came into class dressed up as him, “wearing the same shirt and holding their McDonald’s coffee cups!” As a music educator, he finds joy in seeing his students succeed and progress as musicians.

Mr. Turner’s years of teaching have shown him that the opportunities in music education are limitless. Not only has he been able to work with students in North Carolina, but he has also taught outside of the country. For example, during the summer of 2019, he had the chance to teach in India through a program that was based around music education. He recalls how the whole experience was “life-changing” since it gave him the opportunity to teach abroad and to meet new people. In addition to being a music educator, he also performs gigs at local churches and events. In his own words, Mr. Turner says, “Music education opens up doors for so many more opportunities than just teaching students… you can also be a fantastic performer as well!”  

The Covid-19 pandemic has greatly affected music educators across the board, and as a result, Mr. Turner has had to overcome plenty of new challenges to adapt to online teaching. He explains, “The band world is a very hands-on enviornment… [During in-person practices] I can identify which students are struggling, and I have a whole basket of tricks to help the student get past the learning obstacle and to get onto the next level. However, that process is much harder on zoom.” Despite these challenges, Mr. Turner has adapted by “reaching out more to individual students” and staying “extra patient for young people in the learning process.”

For those interested in pursuing a career in music education, Mr. Turner’s biggest piece of advice is to keep in mind that although being a good music player can be helpful, it is not a skill required to become a teacher as anyone with a passion for music can pursue this career. For those who have already decided to pursue a teaching career, Mr. Turner emphasizes the importance of building relationships with other music educators: “I’ve leaned heavily throughout my career on band directors I became friends with…[Since] most music educators are typically the sole person in that position at their school, networking across districts is key to arts educators for gathering resources and staying on top of what’s new.” Overall, Mr. Turner encourages those interested in becoming a music educator to put themselves out there and to not be afraid to ask questions as that is all part of the learning process!