simple hit counter

Columbus Makes Art presents Columbus Children’s Choir Artistic Director Jeanne Wohlgamuth


Artistic Director of the Columbus Children's Choir Jeanne Wohlgamuth

“There is no better calling than to be an educator and to help shape the minds of our future generation”

— Jeanne Wohlgamuth, conductor


Ahead of the Columbus Children’s Choir’s holiday performances, we chatted with Artistic Director Jeanne Wohlgamuth, whose choirs have won countless awards and toured extensively both nationally and internationally. As a conductor, Jeanne has won several international competitions, performed at Carnegie Hall and even worked with the Vienna Boys’ Choir.

Kerry: Jeanne, thanks for agreeing to answer some silly questions for me today. But perhaps your answers will inspire someone considering a career in music education. What would you think of that?
Jeanne: Haha. I can’t imagine it, but I firmly believe that I have the best job in the world. I think it would be okay if my experiences made someone want to teach. When I taught public schools, I literally jumped out of bed every morning looking forward to going to school. You’ll laugh at this, but the day before the automated phone calls, I complained every time my administrator called to say school was out due to the weather. There is no better calling than to be an educator and to help shape the minds of our future generation.

Kerry: Ok, here’s a tough question to start with. You have taught students of all ages. Which ones are the most difficult, which ones are the most fulfilling, and which ones could you skip all together? I promise we won’t judge.
Jeanne: Ah, that’s difficult. I take you at your word that you will not judge. I really enjoyed teaching all levels. Elementary school is tough, but fun. Elementary school students are a bit like puppies. They are innocent, enthusiastic, energetic and will love you unconditionally.

Middle school is exciting because you are faced with a different challenge every day. Middle schoolers are quirky, they are honest and are not afraid to say what they think and they will hold you accountable. But if you can get them on your side, they’re incredibly loyal and will work hard. With middle school students, you always have a fun story to tell at a party! As much as I loved working with younger students, I am truly fortunate to have a great team of leaders at Columbus Children’s Choir who specialize in working with elementary and middle school aged children.

I really found my calling when I started working with high school singers. I won’t lie, I was very apprehensive when I started teaching this level. I was petrified that they would know more than I did. I remember one of my singers who was quite intelligent and was always trying to catch me when I was making a mistake. In an attempt to turn a bad thing into a good thing (from my point of view), I decided we were going to have a little competition. I put a tally of both of our names on the blackboard in my classroom. If he caught me making a mistake, I gave him a point. If I caught him making a mistake, I gave myself a point. Guess who won? I have, thank God! I have never had more challenges from this student or the rest of this class. In the end I learned a lot from him and vice versa.

Kerry: That actually leads nicely to my next question. You started out as a major in piano. At some point you switched to vocal music. Have you ever had aspirations to play the piano professionally, or was it always intended as a teaching tool?
Jeanne: My career aspiration was to be a concert pianist. Unfortunately, for various reasons, I didn’t start teaching until I was in high school. Within six months of taking lessons, I auditioned for music school and was accepted. To this day I don’t know how! When I was in college, I practiced five or six hours a day. I was determined but naive when I thought I could achieve in a few years what my classmates had perfected before they entered elementary school. My dreams were shattered when my private piano teacher was interviewed on national television. Out of her mouth came the words I never wanted to hear: “No matter how much time you dedicate to practicing, if you don’t start playing at a very young age, you will never become an accomplished concert pianist.” With those words, my dreams were shattered .

While it was devastating, it led me to an incredibly fulfilling career. I believe that anyone who has studied music can teach choir. Let’s face it, music is music whether you’re teaching a band, choir or orchestra. All it takes is a determination to continue learning to learn the right technique and a desire to provide quality education to your students. Some of the best choral teachers I’ve met in my career weren’t singers.

Jeanne Wohlgamut conducts the Columbus Children's Choir during a performance at the Columbus Arts Festival.
Jeanne Wohlgamut conducts the Columbus Children’s Choir during a performance at the Columbus Arts Festival.

Kerry: Speaking of colleagues, you’ve done a lot of service and chaired many committees. That’s a lot of extra work. I’m sure at the beginning of their career people ask themselves, is it worth it?
Jeanne: Overtime is an understatement! I just attended a committee meeting that started at 5:30pm and didn’t finish until 12:30am. That’s what happens when you bring a group of very passionate music educators together in a room. We won’t stop until the job is done. To answer your questions, committee work and public service is an absolute must. The community you care about will benefit from your service and expertise, and you will benefit from building a network that can help advance your career. As someone passionate about music education, I’ve been involved in some incredible community organizations like the Kiwanis Club of Columbus, whose primary focus is improving the lives of children. I’ve decided that sleep is overrated, so I spend my “free time” as President-elect of the Ohio Choral Directors Association and Vocal Affairs Choir of the Ohio Music Educators Association!

Kerry: We’re getting closer to holiday performances. Most musicians either love them or hate them. Which ones do you like to conduct the most, which ones do you like to listen to the most and which ones could you really do without?
Jeanne: You’re really trying to get me in trouble, aren’t you? I love them all, but I have my favorites that I conduct and listen to. I know how much my directors love Franklin Park Conservatory and Dickens of a Christmas. It’s such a special time of year for children and families, and it’s really meaningful for parents to see their child perform in your community. I always enjoy seeing my choir perform on stage at the Ohio Theater with the Columbus Symphony on Holiday Pops. Although it’s a very long and busy weekend, there’s nothing more magical than seeing the faces of my singers as they come off the stage after performing at one of the biggest holiday events in town. Your comments are priceless. Most of them have never had the opportunity to perform in front of a large audience or with a world-class orchestra like the CSO. It really warms my heart. But the best part is that I can prep them and then just sit back and enjoy the performance!

This busy holiday season, see the Wohlgamuth and Columbus Children’s Choir. They will perform with the Columbus Symphony’s Holiday Pops 2nd-4th Dec; at Franklin Park Conservatory, on Sunday 4 December; a free show State Auto’s Christmas Corner (518 E. Broad St.) on Wednesday, December 7; and during the Ohio History Connection Dickens of Christmas at the Ohio Village, December 11.

Columbus makes art gifts is a bi-weekly column from the Greater Columbus Arts Council – dedicated to supporting and promoting the artistic and cultural fabric of Columbus. A project of the Art Makes Columbus campaign, the column tells the inspirational stories of the people and organizations that create Columbus art. Learn more about local artists, organizations, public art and events at ColumbusMakesArt.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *