Radford teacher’s career hits high note
When it comes to selecting a new leader, a candidate’s experience often becomes his or her major selling point.
Such was likely the case when the Virginia Music Educators Association elected Radford High School choral teacher Lois Castonguay president of the state unit of the National Association for Music Education and its over 4,800 members.
On July 1 Castonguay officially took office, bringing her over 25-year track record of fostering relationships between music and junior and high school age students to the post.
Castonguay said she truly believes she found her life’s calling in music education, but admitted her original plan in high school was to be a marine biologist.
That plan changed when as a high school student she volunteered to help teach music at a catholic elementary that didn’t have a music program.
“I thought, ‘you know I kind of like this.’ I think I could have been a good marine biologist, but this is my calling,” Castonguay said.
Castonguay graduated from the University of Connecticut and married David Castonguay, who was soon after hired the choral director at Radford University.
The two journeyed to the New River Valley and Castonguay began at Radford High and Dalton Intermediate Schools as the accompanist for then choral director Lios Carr. When Carr decided to move to teaching elementary aged students, Castonguay was hand-picked as her predecessor for the only the secondary level position in town.
“It’s very cool to be in a small town like this and get the one choral job. I got the one job in the town where my husband was teaching at the university. It was a perfect setup,” Castonguay said.
Entering her 26th year in that perfect setup, Castonguay said the part of her longevity she is most proud of is the idea that she has helped create a lifelong relationship between the art of singing and many of her students.
Sometimes that relationship has begun with students entering her choral class in the seventh grade, but other times Castnoguay said there is a bit of a recruitment process involved.
“If I hear a kid singing in the hallway or hear like a kid with a really deep voice talking, I’ll try to get him to just walk in the room. I’ll just bring him up to the piano and say hey do this,” Castnoguay said.
She added that she enjoys helping her students find something school related to get involved in and that singing is a perfect venue for that because, unlike an instrument or sport it is a relationship which can begin at any age.
For some of Castnoguay’s students, that relationship has also led to a career in the music field.
Such is that case for “The Gregory Brothers,” a Brooklyn based quartet which has become well-known across the country for their unique ability to combine music, humor, and pop culture to create wildly viral videos, including their series You Tube “Auto-Tune the News,” which has generated several millions views.
The group includes three former members of Castonguay’s choir, Evan, Michael, and Andrew Gregory.
Andrew Gregory, who graduated Radford High School in 2000 and who also has five current solo albums, said Castonguay had the rare ability to create an environment in which students actually enjoying giving up two to three hours on Monday evenings for an extra curricular activity.
Despite his future career in the field of music, Gregory said Castonguay’s teaching was never focused on turning her students towards such a path.
“That was the great thing about Mrs. Castonguay, she taught you that music was important not because it was going to be your career, music was important because you love it.,” Andrew Gregory said.
While many of Castonguay’s students developed that love for music, others like Tara Yates also developed a love for teaching music and followed in her former instructors’ footsteps.
When Castonguay took over the Radford High School music, Yates said she was sophomore at the school and had never given any thought to teaching the subject.That however changed with her new teacher.
“She was my first real expereince with beautiful good quality music that just touched my soul. It changed my whole life,” Yates said.
Yates, admitted that at first, she thought Castonguay was a bit too serious, but with time became inspired by her ability to teach and push her students to a new level.
“I thought ‘I want to teach kids that don’t get it, like I didn’t get it.’ She changed my whole life career wise,” Yates said.
Yates went on to earn a degree in Music Education from Radford University and is currently a music teacher at Falling Branch Elementary School in Christiansburg.
Reguardless of if her students have turned their passions for music into careers, Castonguay said her main hope is that she simply had a positive impact on them.
Castnoguay recalled an encounter she had a recent Relay for Life in which she found herself singing at the candlelight service beside a lady she said had an incredible voice.
“I looked at her and said, ‘you have a beautiful voice,” and she said thank you, you taught me,” Castnoguay said.
Castnoguay admitted she had a hard time remembering the former student, but said that was the beauty of music, a person can continue doing it their entire life.
As Castnoguay takes on a new challenge for her life as president of the VMEA, she said she hopes to continue creating environments in which relationships between students and music can flourish, this time on a larger scale.
Her position, which is on a volunteer basis, will likely include many weekend hours and much travel, however Castonguay said she is looking forward to helping advocate for positive chances in music education and playing a role in helping to figure out where music fits into the puzzle of today’s world education.
Based on her career thus far, finding a way for use music to enhance the lives and educations of students, should be right up her alley.
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