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ETM Teacher Spotlight, Liz Chidester

Meet Liz Chidester, a critically acclaimed and award winning singer/songwriter, actor, and teaching artist who teaches at P.S. 140 in the Bronx and P.S. 192 in Manhattan. A true advocate for music education, Liz brings her breadth of experience as a performer and teaching artist to connect with ETM students of all ages in the classroom. She also recently helped to put on a benefit concert to raise funds to purchase additional ukuleles for her school. We had the chance to speak with Liz about her perspective and passion for teaching music.


You’re a musician, actor, teaching artist, storyteller. Tell me about how you bring your experiences as a performer, songwriter into the classroom and working with students of all ages?

Prior to my time at ETM, I was living in Chicago and taught at the Old Town School of Folk Music there. This was the place that had given me the most well-rounded experience as teacher. I taught everyone from kids starting at age 4 up to adults. So coming to New York and working with ETM, I have been able to bring this wealth of experience teaching across all ages and settings to the diversity of NYC classrooms and students.  


What you love most about teaching music.

I really love the “ah-ha” look of when a kid gets it, or when they say I didn’t know I could do that, or I didn’t know that that is how it’s done. To know that you’re planting a seed of a journey that could be endless, this makes me feel really good. And this experience feeds a different kind of positive energy that performing doesn’t do, because I know I’m giving it and passing it on to someone else.


Tell me about your experience bringing ukuleles into PS 140.

The ukulele is so cool because it has this instantaneous pleasant sound to it, and you’re able to have students feel rhythm in a different kind of way against the strings. With the ukulele, you’re able to show them how to find a scale, how to find individual notes, and the effect of harmony on the string. The students are able to feel like it’s their own orchestra with the instrument. So to make the ukulele more accessible to my students was the motivation. Fortunately, with the support of fellow musicians Kinga Augustyn, Lukasz Wronski, Nilko Andreas, friends, and ETM, we were able to put on a successful fundraising concert that enabled us to purchase a classroom set of ukuleles for my school.


You’ve taught with a few other music/arts organizations. From your perspective, what’s unique about ETM? 

The level of support and consistent check-ins, the professional development, and the community that ETM creates is definitely unique. I feel that as a unit of music teachers and cohort leaders, we all know each other. With some organizations I’ve worked for early in my teaching years, I rarely interacted with other educators, which is so important to your development and ideas. Sometimes, I rarely saw the faces of the people that hired me. Here, I know people at ETM and could connect with them if I need something.


Is there a particular student’s story that comes to mind? A student’s noticeable change or development through music class? Something that has surprised you in a moving way?

When the ukuleles arrived, It made me really happy to see the kids light up. They had been looking at my ukulele, and had been aching to play it, and finally that there was enough for everyone to play. They were so stoked! It’s also felt really good to watch the students “find their first note.” This has been a huge thing. Also, now that I’m teaching in a public school with lots of children who don’t often have the opportunity for outside lessons or additional exposure to instruments, it’s been amazing watching them realize what their fingers are doing on the strings, and facilitating these moments of achievement with the instrument. 


Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experiences as a music teacher or your perspective on the importance of music education?

ETM is extremely important in this city because NYC used to have music in so many more of its public schools. Music is inside of everything that we do – it’s why we are living! And we need to show, rather than tell, the importance and impact of music. Performance is a very good way of doing this, but it’s also when my kids come into the room, they smile, they are laughing, they are expressing, their general energy is better than when they are in the hallway, or when they are sitting there taking a test. That has so much value and it’s something we need to continue to advocate for.


More about Liz

Originally from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Liz has been a prolific Americana songwriter based mainly in Chicago for most of her career. Her solo releases include People Pumping Pedals (2014) Otter Hill (2015), otherside of the darkest timeline (2021), “Sun Sup” “The Gift That Moved You” (2021) and “People Pumping Pedals (A Decade Down the Line)” (2023). With her band, LIZ AND THE LOVELIES, she released Progress Into Simplicity (2017), “My Way/Your Way” “Sleep In” (2018) “great american chestnut tree” (2020). She won NPR’s NewSong Songwriting Contest 2014 – Midwestern Finalist, Chicago Music Awards 2015 – Best Female Vocalist, NewSong Leaf Songwriter Competition 2016 – Finalist, Independent Music Awards 2018 – Best Roots EP. Her song “the great american chestnut” was featured on NPR’s All Songs Considered in 2020. She is currently working on a new ‘Latin Americana’ project LIZ & NILKO in NYC with her partner Colombian classical guitarist Nilko Andreas. She is a Voting Member of the Recording Academy and the Folk Alliance International.

Liz is a Jeff Award winning and critically acclaimed actor, called “one of the most truthful actors in this city” by the Chicago Tribune. She is a Company Member of the first feminist equity musical theatre company Firebrand Theatre, and an Artistic Associate of American Blues Theatre. She has worked as an actor, collaborator, and composer with PigPen Theatre Co, Chicago Children’s Theatre, and the puppet theatre Cabinet of Curiosity. She is an Equity member of AEA.

Liz has taught private and group classes in ‘ukulele, voice, piano, guitar, and songwriting with Midori & Friends, Arts Ignite, and Little Chopins in NYC and was a Teaching Artist at the historic Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago for almost a decade. An advocate of the ‘ukulele, she teaches ‘ukulele retreats with the Wonderstruck Ukulele Academy out of Kansas City, MO. She is a proud graduate of James Madison University School of Music. www.lizandthelovelies.com