One of the things I’ve been looking forward to about this interview is the opportunity to write the following sentence: Aimee Winner is, well, a real winner. (No more puns about winning, I promise!) I met Aimee on one of my first visits to Howard County, Maryland, where she is an award-winning music educator. But more than that, Aimee is the kind of woman a lot of us hope to be when we grow up – accomplished (she has a Bachelor’s of Arts in Music Education with a voice principal from Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ), professionally successful (one of the choirs she directs is routinely seen singing in the opening ceremonies of the Baltimore Blast Soccer games at Mariner Arena, singing the National Anthem at Camden Yards for the Baltimore Orioles and competing at The Festival of Music in the Parks at Hershey Park), personally successful (she is married with a beautiful 2 ½ year old son, Jonah), and just overall fun.
Something Aimee is fond of saying is, “Be kinder than necessary today, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” Well, if that’s not advice from a winner, I don’t know what is. (OK, I lied about not making any more winning puns. It’s my interview, I get to do that!) Thanks for joining us today, Aimee!
Let’s start with the obvious question: how awesome is it to be an official Winner?
The students get a kick out of my last name being Winner. They say I always win. I love that, even though that isn’t necessarily true, but because it is my last name.
Well, I think it’s true. As a “winning” music teacher, what are your favorite things to listen to?
Geesh, this is such a tough one. Being a lover of music makes it hard to pick a favorite. On any given day I could find myself listening to Claude Debussy, JS Bach, Stephen Sondheim, especially “Into the Woods” or Leonard Bernstein, Ella Fitzgerald and more recent artists like Fleet Foxes, Carla Morrison, Sufjan Stevens, Kings of Convenience, Coldplay, Alicia Keys, and Adele!! I could go on and on.
Recently, I have been rocking out to Ra Ra Riots new album “Beta Love”. I can’t get enough of them (all of their albums are great), and I had the privilege to see them for my birthday in January at the 9:30 Club in DC!! What a fun night with my hubby!
How did you become interested in music?
I was inspired by my mother, who is also a lover of music and has taught elementary music for many years. I grew up in a musical home and starting singing at a very young age. I also began to learn piano and violin in elementary school. I continued singing in choir, playing in the orchestra and performing in the musicals and plays through high school each year. And now, I’m devoted to making music and sharing her love of music with others forever and ever.
My absolute favorite experience was during my senior year of undergrad while attending Westminster Choir College in 2004. I had the amazing opportunity to perform in Westminster Symphonic Choir at Lincoln Center when Broadway and operetta united in the New York Philharmonic’s semi-staged performance of the musical “Candide” by Leonard Bernstein. The cast included Broadway’s “Wicked” Kristin Chenoweth as Cunegonde, Patti LuPone in a star turn as The Old Lady, Paul Groves as Candide, and Sir Thomas Allen as Dr. Pangloss/Narrator. “Candide” featured Bernstein protégé Marin Alsop conducting the New York Philharmonic, Wow! I still get goose bumps and smile when I think about how incredible it was rehearsing and performing on the stage at Avery Fischer Hall. I have such fond memories that I will remember for my lifetime from that week in NYC.
Any memorable experiences teaching music?
Well, in 2007 I was the silent music teacher for 5 weeks while I was on vocal rest. Yep, silent. I carried around a notebook or my laptop to communicate. It was quite and interesting experience that I hope I never have to do again! I was able to teach music using a lot of technology and focusing on a student lead classroom. It was actually a tough time in my life because I didn’t talk at all for 5 weeks and my voice was in danger of being damaged for life. I chose not to talk at home or in the classroom and I couldn’t sing in fear of hurting my voice and losing my livelihood. But in the end the voice rest saved my voice!! You don’t really realize how important or special something is until you almost lose it forever.
Wow! That’s pretty amazing! I can’t imagine teaching without talking. (But I’m not surprised that you found a way to do it!) But it goes to show how important music can be…so tell us, how does music help kids to become nerdy?
Music is such an amazing outlet that reaches everyone young and old!!! I find that music really allows kids to express themselves and have fun. Music meets you where you are at any moment. I love that kids can just soak it all in; laugh, play, move and make music. “Music expresses what words cannot” I love teaching music to kids because we have so much fun and nothing else matters when they walk in my classroom. Just right now and that moment, to be free and have a good time.
How do you see the music that is being produced today as helping to empower girls to be smart (or, as we like to call it, nerdy)?
Music today totally empowers girls to be smart. I love it. There is so much inspiration and fun in music that is being produced today. These songs make girls realize that whatever life brings you are going to be okay. There are so many messages about believing in yourself, finding beauty in yourself and moving on when you are stuck, keep trying, standing tall.
Tell us about a musical nerdy chick you admire and why you admire her.
There are so many wonderful and inspiring ladies out there, but I think the first one that comes to my mind is the beloved and much-honored star Julie Andrews. I grew up watching her in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. There is just something about her natural elegance and beautiful singing voice that has always drawn me to her. As a child she helped me find my love for music at such a young age. I would still love to play either of those roles on stage because of her! She is simply amazing.
Do you have a personal “theme song,” perhaps one that speaks to your inner nerdiness? So, I have two…. Or hundreds… right?! Again, such great songs to choose from, but…I would have to say “Defying Gravity” from Wicked. It’s about doing everything in your power to fight for what you believe in. Elphaba sings of how she wants to live without limits, going against the rules that others have set for her. We are unlimited. No one will bring you down. If you haven’t heard it, or better yet, seen the show Wicked, it is a MUST see/hear!
“Get on your feet” by Gloria Estefan not only because it is so energetic and gets me moving, but there was a particular Parks & Recreation episode that was especially funny, with the highlight of Amy Poelher and posie on thin ice during her character’s campaign. Amy is brilliant and stunning! Love her!
What is one of your favorite achievements that you can credit to being a nerdy chick?
One of my favorite achievements is that I get to direct a musical with my 4th and 5th graders each spring. It is amazing to watch the transformation of the students over the six months on working on the show. This year I am working on Winnie the Pooh, KIDS. Each year seems like it will be the best experience, but it just keeps getting better and better each year. I am so proud of the kids for taking a risk to perform on stage and work so hard. It is so much fun building the relationships and experiences with them and seeing them transform during our time together, building memories of a lifetime. Shows in the past have been: Emperor’s New Clothes, Jungle Book Kids, Honk Jr. Aladdin KIDS, A Year With Frog and Toad KIDS, Willy Wonka Kids, 101 Dalmatians KIDS, Aristocat KIDS.
This has been such a fun and thoughtful interview – thanks for all your great answers! But now for the fun part…If someone gave you $75 and you could only spend it on you, what would you do with it?
I would go to NYC and see a show on Broadway in a heartbeat! I don’t get there enough to enjoy the talent and magic of the stage. I sure miss it.
Can you tell us one thing you buy at the grocery store that you cannot live without?
There are not many things in life that are more enjoyable than a nice cup of tea. We always have few different choices in our cupboard for morning, noon or night.
He and I are always making music together, playing guitar, banjo, violin, piano, drums and singing – usually marching too. There is never a dull moment in the Winner house!
What’s one thing musical you’d like to do in the future?
I would love to direct a treble boy’s choir. That would be something I haven’t done yet and would love have in my life as a director. Treble boys is such a pure and rich sound.
Thanks again, Aimee, for talking to us today. To learn more about Aimee, visit her on the web at http://web.hcpss.org/~aimee_winner/. And, in her honor, go sing something!