Faculty Friday: Cory Shelton

Each school year, the faculty at Nichols School provide tremendous guidance and encouragement to help their students learn and grow. Our faculty members are empowered to craft the curriculum as they see fit, to make learning relevant and rewarding for every child.
Faculty Friday features the outstanding teachers of Nichols School and showcases the work they do to help our students and our community.
Cory Shelton teaches Middle School and Upper School music students and conducts the concert orchestras for both divisions. 
How long have you taught at Nichols? How long have you taught music for?
I joined the music faculty at Nichols three years ago. I've taught private lessons, college courses, and K-12 students in music for the past six years.
How have you adapted music classes and group work since March 2020 to make it rewarding for students?
COVID-19 has definitely altered the music department here, but the breadth of a comprehensive music education is quite flexible, and we have been able to provide a lot for our students. This year, we have been digging into the artistic process more than before, examining philosophies of music making and exploring how musicians across the world have adapted to working from home through recording group projects and content creation. Ensembles have been able to stay together by using new software which allows students to play together while at home and without lag time, which is common with Zoom.  

Social distancing rules for music ensembles have been the most difficult to overcome. Nichols has a large campus and facilities in which all our ensembles have been able to gather in-person every rehearsal while the school campus has been open. The distancing has also helped students confront the vulnerability of hearing themselves play, and we have seen a large growth in confidence and risk-taking amongst the students, willing to share their voice loud and clearly, even in a large group. 

The entire music department is excited for families to hear and see the growth these students have achieved once we are able to come together as one community again. We are proud of the challenges our music students have been able to overcome this year, and bear witness to their growth in character. 
When did you first develop an affinity for music?
It all started in elementary school for me. My music teacher Mrs. I. was my inspiration. Everyone in the school loved to go to music class with her. A few years later, I started taking private lessons, in which she brought out my more advanced percussion techniques and styles. During lessons, she explained to me what she taught to all the students when we were children. It was enlightening: the depth of music theory in which the students could not only understand but perform. To the student, it is just a simple nursery rhyme and dance that was shifted over to instruments, but it was so much more. From there, I took every music course my school offered, performing in choir, band and orchestra by my senior year in high school, and I worked as a student volunteer with our beginning bands.  
What are some of your favorite musical memories?
Bruised hands, confused, and holding a Djembe. My first music class in college was a Malinke and Ghanian Drumming class, playing traditional music from Guinea, Ghana, Senegal, Mali, and the Ivory Coast. This key first class led me to the world of ethnomusicology, which is the study of music as culture, and to my second major in world history and cultures. Following this path of understanding people, I have lived abroad in Ireland studying traditional Irish music, worked with countless musicians from West Africa, Brazil, and Mexico, and brought world music to schools around Buffalo, expanding our connections as a diverse and multicultural city. A world of opportunities started in that one experience for me.  

My other favorite memory is one I get to experience year after year. Seniors being handed their last concert rose. The joy on their faces, as the nostalgia that accompanies the moment, fills the entire room as we celebrate eight years of dedication, development, engagement and looking to bring their musical experiences to other areas of their lives as they move forward. Music is not an easy skill to learn, and this moment of recognition always brings me joy as I watch the students grow in understanding and life experience for one last time.  

Has becoming a music teacher given you a new appreciation for music? If so, how?

Music sits at the core of the humanities; it is one of the disciplines and activities which make us truly human. Music is also an extremely vulnerable activity, everyone can hear your sound as soon as you start playing, both your successes and your failures. Watching students develop this skill into their character outside of music classes has been the most enjoyable moment for me since I began teaching. There are so many musical skills which take years to properly understand and address, but are also needed to find success in any life pursuit moving forward: critical thinking, non-competitive teamwork, determination and practice, risk-taking, self-evaluation and more.

Learning an instrument even for a few years has been scientifically proven to be a significant factor in cognitive development and achievement in school across disciplines, even correlated to higher SAT scores. Playing an instrument or singing is found to be one of the few academic activities which engage both sides of the brain simultaneously. If there is anything I have learned since becoming a music teacher, it is the immense impact and power of music on the whole person which extends far beyond the concert stage. In my role as a teacher, I strive for my students to find their goals and passions, and I have increasingly learned that music classes will aid them in whatever direction they take.  

Why do you enjoy teaching?

There is a time in primary school where the teacher asks the inevitable question: "What do you want to do when you grow up?" Most students say fun things like becoming an astronaut, running for President, or becoming a first responder. It’s a light-hearted question meant to spark excitement and intrigue, something to boast about when the students arrive home with a colored portrait of their future selves in those careers.  

The shock looking back on this question now is the commonality of most responses: servicing others. The simplicity of most in primary school is looking at their mentors, parents, teachers, coaches, heroes, and they become the student’s goal in life. As students get older and continue with life experiences and education, life gets complicated and priorities change, their road through the woods follows a different path. How many people, now living as adults, look back and wonder: What if I followed my dreams as a child? Where would I be and how could I make an impact to help someone else? 

Teaching allows me to sit and enjoy these moments of growth, dreaming big, and finding one’s path. For eight years, I get to guide and watch amazing students find their voice, discover their passions, and dig deep into the tools they need to overcome challenges along the way. The key, most of all, is I can follow my own primary school dream: servicing others and building students to do the same. 
What do you enjoy most about Nichols School?
Nichols continues to impress me most with both its heritage and forward-thinking innovation. Nichols faculty and staff are expert educators, who strive every day to provide a pivotal student-centered curriculum, advisory program, and life experience for every student passing through our walls. Most recently, I have been inspired by working with colleagues to systematically and thoughtfully incorporate diversity and inclusion into every department, both academic and administrative, to ensure every student can courageously and authentically be themselves. This is not light or short work, but the innovation goes to the very depth of our institution - in every facet imaginable and then some.  

I am also inspired daily by the heritage of our arts program. We have alumni who currently work as professional musicians and dancers, TV, movie and stage actors, and art curators across the nation. From college professors in the arts, to national tours and producers, an Emmy winner and a Grammy winner, the Nichols arts program served as their foundation. This heritage inspires me every day to continue to solidify the foundation for all our future performing artists and encourage their voices and dreams. 

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Nichols School is a nationally recognized college preparatory coed independent school with a 130-year history.