Mariyana Van Arsdale
When one thinks of the pinnacle of musical talent, often a celebrity or a Broadway star comes to mind. It’s rare that one may think of a teacher from a city in Central New York. Think again; Elizabeth Quackenbush is the choral director of Jamesville-DeWitt High School, and her talent is astonishing.
It’s not just vocal ability; Mrs. Quackenbush has an unbelievable way of influencing others’ lives. She brings her connections to those in the musical world into the chorus room.
One of these connections is to Kevin Stites who Mrs. Quackenbush’s met because of her closeness to her family.
Mrs. Quackenbush’s oldest brother, Joe, is extremely musical. “He wrote musicals, performed in musicals and national tours as well as played keyboard and traveled with them,” said Mrs. Quackenbush. He and his wife eventually moved to New York City, where Joe began meeting with a group that workshopped each others’ musicals. Through that, he met Mr. Stites, a musical director, conductor, and arranger on Broadway. Mr. Stites worked on shows such as “Les Miserables,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” and “Titanic,” just to name a few. Through Mrs. Quackenbush’s brother Joe, she met Mr. Stites and began bringing her show choir, Inachord, now known as Spark, to New York City to workshop with him. Eventually, she asked Mr. Stites to come to J-DHS to work with the choirs here.
A second connection that has influences Mrs. Quackenbush’s classes is her connection to the Syracuse University choral program. For the past several years, Mrs. Quackenbush has taken both Women’s Choir and Chorale to Syracuse University to workshop songs for upcoming concerts. They rehearse with the conductors and music directors on campus as well as observe the choirs they have there. They learn new techniques and ways to perform.
Every other year the three choirs, as well as band and orchestra, take a trip to compete with an arrangement of music and attend an awards ceremony. The judges of the competition give helpful feedback to each choir about each song they performed. Mrs. Quackenbush brings students to these events to help them become better performers, and perhaps discover a love they have for music that they may not have previously had.
Not only does Mrs. Quackenbush have the ability to enrich her students’ lives, she also acts as a friend to them and someone who they can always go to talk to.
“Mrs. Q has impacted me not only as a chorus teacher and helping me get better but she has a very motherly way about her and if I’m going through something I know I can always go talk to her,” said senior Gerry Wason. Mrs. Quackenbush was taught to treat her students like her own children and constantly brings that into the classroom. “Parents put their kids on a bus and send them to you, you need to treat that time with importance,” said Mrs. Quackenbush.
This has caused students to see her as more than just a teacher. “Quack is always there for you, she can tell from your facial expressions if you’re having a bad day and she’ll always come to me and ask me what’s wrong and I know I can always talk to her,” said junior Elijah Theus.
So how did such an important person end up at J-DHS?
Mrs. Quackenbush grew up not far from J-DHS in Liverpool, NY with her five siblings Joe, Julie, Bill, Erin, and Jim and her parents. Growing up, Mrs. Quackenbush was very close with her family. Her parents would always support each activity the kids wanted to do, although they did not have money to spare.“I have a lot of memories of the eight of us all packing into our Dodge Caravan, or whatever car we had at the time, and going to my brother Joe’s concerts or my sister Julie’s dance recitals. We always went to each others activities,” said Mrs. Quackenbush.
Music really took off for Mrs. Quackenbush in fifth grade when she began to enter vocal competitions at Penn-Can Mall. In sixth grade, she started to audition for shows outside of her school and then began taking vocal lessons in seventh grade. Despite her increasing talent and dedication to vocal performance as a child, she knew she only wanted to be a teacher. “I only wanted to teach, I never wanted to perform,” said Mrs. Quackenbush, “if I wasn’t a choral teacher I would probably teach a different subject.”
Mrs. Quackenbush attended SUNY Fredonia for her undergraduate bachelor’s degree then proceeded to Syracuse University for her master’s degree. She student taught kindergarten through fourth grade under Susan Hunt, who tragically passed away from brain cancer after Mrs. Quackenbush began teaching at J-DHS in the early 2000s. For her high school student teaching, she taught under Kent Knappenberger who won the first Music Educator Grammy in 2014. “He’s probably the best teacher I’ve ever met in my life,” said Mrs. Quackenbush. In Autumn of 1995 she began teaching at J-DHS.
In her 22 years at J-DHS, Mrs. Quackenbush has been apart of 22 musicals, 22 Inachord/Spark shows, 22 choral festivals, and more than 65 concerts. Her motivation comes from her first thought every morning, “Be a better person today than I was yesterday.”