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Teacher Feature: Dr. Elizabeth Waterbury

Dr. Waterbury

Written by Dominic Mallari

Since 1999, Dr. Elizabeth Waterbury has been competently directing the choral activities here at Shasta College. As stated in the Choral and Vocal Activities section of Shasta College’s website, “The choral ensembles of the Music Department offer a wide range of musical opportunities for interested students and community members. All students are welcome and do not need to be music majors to participate in ensembles, although some groups are by audition only.” Likewise, every semester, Dr. Waterbury directs the Concert Choir (MUS 40), which is open to all students, as well as the Chamber Choir (MUS 31), the Vocal Jazz Ensemble (MUS 35), and the Shasta College Chorale (MUS 42), which are higher-level performance ensembles that require auditions. “Unlike other teachers, music teachers have to create new curriculum each semester,” she explains. She also teaches Music Appreciation (MUS 10), as well as various classes for voice training, performance analysis, and courses specialized for senior students. Furthermore, she is the music director for the main stage productions: the Opera Workshop, Vocal Institute, and the Summer Musical. Dr. Waterbury is very passionate about her profession, which is evident when she demonstrates vocal techniques along with playing the piano during choir rehearsals. Despite her busy schedule at the 600 building, she maintains a cheerful and lively mood, even “at the end of the day.”

When asked about her childhood, Dr. Waterbury recalled how she grew up in the suburbs of the San Jose area in a family of seven, in which she was the middle child. Her mother was from Florence, Italy, her father was a soldier and a naval engineer from Boston, and they both met and were married in San Francisco. Upon moving to San Jose, her father worked at IBM while her mother sold real estate. Growing up in the suburbs, she enjoyed biking and barefoot summers. Despite being known for her specialty in choir, Dr. Waterbury’s earliest musical influence was taking piano lessons from the woman who played the organ at her church. “I didn’t like to practice at all,” she says, thinking fondly of those days, a scenario similar to Marian’s piano lesson to Amaryllis in The Music Man, “but there was always one new piece I wanted to learn so somehow I managed to ease on through the whole process.”

Dr. Waterbury, who unfurls her splendor with a superb soprano voice, actually did not start singing until her college years. She started out as more of a vocal coach who assisted students learning difficult music, lending her talents, which included speaking and correctly pronouncing words in Italian and German. Bounding through universities with more ambition than Elle Woods from Legally Blonde, she received her BA in Music for Piano Performance from San Jose State University, her MM in Piano Performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and her Doctorate in Conducting from UC Santa Barbara. It was when she was studying for her doctorate that Dr. Waterbury began teaching in a classroom. As a graduate student in her 30s, she began to do much hands-on classroom work with choir classes.

While living in Santa Barbara with her husband and then-10-year-old son, Dr. Waterbury, who had just finished her doctorate and was trying to figure out her financial situation, saw an ad for the job of teaching choir at Shasta College. Allured by the good salary and the idea of finally owning their own house instead of renting, the Waterbury family moved to Redding. She recounts, “I was very excited about the possibility of having my own home.” Prior to this job, she had also lived in Germany for eight years, San Francisco for three years, and Santa Barbara for five years. In Redding, she was finally able to establish a connection to the community.

“Teaching choirs is wonderful. Even classroom teaching has a lot to offer,” she laughs, “When you’re teaching choir, and you hand out a piece of music and the students begin to open it up, and their faces light up and they love the music, … you feel like you are bringing to life this great art form and sharing it with people, and it’s just a wonderful thing to share with people.” This soaring spirit is carried on throughout rehearsals, all the way until the final concert that is performed near the end of each semester in which the audience can truly “hear the people sing.” “Each successful concert is a fond memory,” she points out, “All students carry that feeling of triumph, elation, and achievement.”

Along with teaching music, Dr. Waterbury enjoys gardening in the summer and riding bikes, which is her mode of travel to class once or twice a week. Her husband, Robert, a skilled bass/baritone singer, teaches voice in the area. Dashiell, their son and an excellent tenor, is now studying to get his second Masters degree in Opera Directing at Florida State University. This incredible family has been involved in various musical and theatrical activities in Redding, including the Opera Workshop and the Vocal Institute, which are both rigorous courses of vocal and dramatic studies where students rehearse for a concert of opera pieces, arias, and dramatized scenes that seem to defy gravity (metaphorically). Dr. Elizabeth Waterbury comments, “we have good times together through music.”

When asked what she thought was the importance of musical education, Dr. Waterbury replied, “It’s part of our cultural continuity as a people. As time goes on, digital media fragments what cultural connections we have with each other. … Music should increase cultural commonalities instead of merely creating a commercial outlet.”

Along with hard work, Dr. Waterbury’s teaching methods and interactions with students are ones that focus on communication, clarity, and kindness. “I am seldom disappointed by students,” she explains, “Students tend to be participatory as a whole in growth, and them being there is good.” She credits her wonderful students for helping her “change for good” and to become the teacher who she is today.

“Students that come out of any one day of class have learned at least one, or as many as ten new things. As they leave those ten new things will attach to other new things they have never noticed before. It’s like a magnet that empowers them to learn outside the lesson that you gave them. It’s fun to see where the lessons lead.”


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