Conservatory Alumna Inspires and Empowers Young Learners through Music

Michaela Wellems performs for campers at Hummingbird Music Camp

I learned to listen to each student and empower them to play an active role in their lessons. Michaela Wellems

“Every kid in the room has a voice,” explained Conservatory graduate Michaela Wellems, speaking over the phone from Santa Barbara. “That’s an idea that I brought to Hummingbird from Colburn. The kids need to know that they have a part in what they are doing.”

This summer, Michaela spent two weeks in the beautiful Jemez Mountains in New Mexico—but she wasn’t just enjoying the outdoors. She was a music teacher at Hummingbird Music Camp, a traditional summer camp that also offers lessons in music, art, and chess. She not only taught private lessons, but also conducted the camp orchestra, performed for campers, and even participated in her first improv jazz performance.

Michaela was first drawn to the idea of teaching when she participated in the Colburn Teaching Fellows program in 2015, at the time led by visiting faculty Dr. Robert Duke. In the program, Conservatory students are paired with local music students for private lessons, either from Colburn’s Jumpstart Young Musicians Program or from the nearby Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts. Apart from studying educational theory and teaching skills, Fellows also record their lessons and choose segments to analyze in class.

“The hard part of teaching is articulating what you know, especially since everyone processes information differently,” Michaela explained. “I used techniques that I learned from Bob to help my students catch onto things more quickly.”

However, Michaela had to be flexible this summer: while she taught one older private student through the Teaching Fellows program, the kids at camp encompassed a wide range of age and skill level. “It was my first time directing a small orchestra. The younger kids needed to be engaged a lot more, and I had to find new ways to make things fun every day.”

Part of that engagement was hearing what her campers had to say. “I learned to listen to each student and empower them to play an active role in their lessons,” Michaela said. “I took a community engagement class with Nate Zeisler my freshman year, and that was my first experience working with elementary school kids.”

One way she accomplished this was by creating a group building exercise called “Highs n’ Lows” for the students to reflect on what went well and what they thought could have been better as an ensemble. “When they discussed their thoughts, it seemed to remind them that they had a shared goal: to make beautiful music together and at the highest level they could achieve for that week.”

Later this year, Michaela will begin her graduate studies at Rice. “I’ve been passionate about teaching ever since the Teaching Fellows program. I definitely want to keep teaching at Hummingbird, but one day I also want to have my own private studio, and Rice is the perfect place to start developing that.”