In case you haven’t heard, a full–time job for a harp teacher in west Texas just opened up. The March/April 2019 edition of Harp Column recently featured Ector County Independent School District as one of six successful public school harp programs in the United States. We highlighted the fully–integrated, co-curricular program that is taught at its three campuses, having recently added harp for students in elementary school. Vincent Pierce has taught in Ector County for the last five years but is stepping down to pursue a doctorate. We wanted to find out from him exactly what it’s like to teach harp in Odessa, Texas.
Tell us a little bit about the Ector County ISD harp program.
The ECISD harp program was founded by Nelson Allison, a retired elementary school principal and amateur harpist; Reba McHaney, ECISD harp instructor; and Charles Nail, ECISD fine arts director. The program was the vision of Nelson Allison and took many years to come to fruition. As a dedicated educator, Nelson felt that harp should be available to students in Odessa. He began teaching students individually while a principal at Gonzales Elementary. In 1997, Mr. Allison succeeded in creating a harp program that was included in the district fine arts curriculum as a co-curricular activity, allowing students to take harp class in the public schools and receive fine arts credit. As a component of the fine arts curriculum, the program employs a full-time, K-12 certified instructor. The ECISD harp program is the only one of its kind in the state of Texas (where a certified instructor teaches homogenous harp classes), and one of only a few public school harp programs in the country.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
I teach two classes in the morning at Odessa High School (OHS), then two classes in the afternoon at Ector Middle School, which uses a block schedule. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I go to Milam Fine Arts Magnet Elementary and teach 4th and 5th grade students. I have a weekly practice session for OHS students (usually for ensemble, but sometimes for solo practice or orchestra rehearsals) on Tuesdays until 6:00 pm.
Can you share a favorite memory from the past five years teaching in Odessa? What will you miss most about the job?
It’s so hard to choose one memory! I’d have to say our trips. Since we’re a small group, our students travel with me or another teacher in a Suburban, and there is lots of silliness and very meaningful conversation. On one local trip, our Suburban broke down, and one of my students started singing a sad country song about it!
What I will miss most are the personal connections I’ve made with my students and their families. I have taught some of them from 7th grade—11th grade and seen them grow, struggle, mature, and accomplish great things. I call them “my kids.” Fortunately, some of them are continuing on with me at the college level at Odessa College (OC) and University of Texas of the Permian Basin (UTPB), where I will continue to teach.
What skills do you think are crucial to being a successful harp teacher in Ector County?
Adaptability, resourcefulness, persistence, patience…I could go on! Organization and time management are especially important being a traveling teacher and teaching at elementary, middle school, and high school levels. Also, being able to connect with the kids is so important. They are awesome kids.
So what’s next for you?
I will be returning to the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin to pursue a doctorate of musical arts (DMA) in harp with Delaine Leonard. I received my master’s in music from UT Austin, and I’m excited to return! I will continue to commute and teach my college students at OC and UTPB, as well as maintain my position as principal harpist with the Midland–Odessa Symphony and Chorale. After my DMA, I hope to return to west Texas to teach full–time at the college level.