Behind the Mask: Vocal music teacher Shelvin Burns

Behind the Mask: Vocal music teacher Shelvin Burns

Ari Collins
eSomethin staff

As the halfway point of the school year approaches, new teachers and staff members at Perrysburg High School begin to settle in. Shelvin Burns, the new vocal music teacher, is one of them and he is thrilled to be here. 

Burns teaches a women’s chorus of freshmen and a symphonic chorale that combines students of different grades and genders. He also teaches choir at Hull Prairie Intermediate in the afternoons.

Burns was born in Detroit and later moved to South Carolina to go to college at Claflin University.

“I completed my bachelors in music performance there and then I came up to Bowling Green to do my master’s degree in music [education] and now I’m here,” Burns said.

Burns said didn’t always know he wanted to teach, he said that he knew by his senior year of high school.

“Definitely starting my senior year and going into my freshman year of undergrad, I knew that this is something that I will never get bored doing or ever get tired of doing,” Burns said. 

Burns said that starting his first year at Perrysburg was nerve-wracking. He did his student teaching at PHS in the fall of 2019 and thought he knew what to expect. “But it was something totally different,” he said. 

“I kind of saw everything and I know most of the kids already and stuff like that,” Burns said. “[But] as far as like actual teacher things like, I was not ready to be an actual teacher so I had to hurry up and like, grow up.”

He said that what he was expecting, from Perrysburg, is what most expect. “I just always knew that Perrysburg is like what we call a fishbowl. Everyone around us is always looking at Perrysburg to see what we’re doing and how we’re doing things. It’s kind of like we’re the model for every other district for some odd reason,” he said. 

“I was expecting the district and the school itself to live up to some of those things. From what I’ve seen so far, it has. I was expecting good kids, good behavior, willingness to participate—all-around good kids. That’s what we have here, for the most part.”

“I still feel the same way,” Burns said regarding his feelings now. “Personally, I’m still in the process of like, as a first-year teacher, trying to just figure everything out.”

“Everyone, literally from down in the main office, administration, Ms. Nagy in the security booth, even our transportation people that we have, they’ve just been very very helpful and very patient with me. I do appreciate that.”

“We’re only halfway there so, I mean, there’s still a lot of things that are coming up that I’m super excited for. Still excited, still nervous.”

Music in Schools

“Music just can take you and transform you and take you to another world,” Burns said. “Sometimes that’s what it is for me. That’s how I connect with music—looking at, or listening to, the words of a certain piece or listening to the harmonies.”

“It’s not very hard for me to connect with a piece because I get very excited with all music, no matter what it is. For me, it’s just easier because, I mean, I’ve been doing it for a while. And because that’s where my heart is.”

Shelvin Burns

The bigger challenge, Burns said, is trying to get students to connect with music. 

“We as music teachers, especially choir teachers—it’s easier to do in choir than like band or orchestra because we have words,” He said. 

He told eSomethin that his favorite way to try to keep students engaged and connected is through open discussion “and figuring out, okay…this is what I think it means to me personally, now how can we take what you think personally and make it a bigger group thing so that we’re all on the same page.”

However, that won’t always work because there are some pieces where students are just not as interested “and that’s okay,” he said. “Not everyone is going to be inspired or feel a certain way towards everything.” 

Burns thinks that music classes are really important in schools. “There’s the obvious reason: fellowship and camaraderie,” he said. According to Burns, many students in choir have met their best friends in class.

While these classes do help students socially, Burns says that they also have great psychological benefits. “A lot of students come in here and you never know what they’re going through that day and just stepping through those doors just releases everything that, you know, has been going on,” he said. “It’s a big stress relief for a lot of kids and it’s overall fun.”

When asked what school would be like without music classes, Burns said a single word: boring. 

“I think the school would excel in other subjects more, for sure, because the focus would be put more on core classes. But then we’re losing that artistic side, or that artistic outlet, that students need. I don’t think I could put that in any other words…” 

Future

Every year there’s a contest that students in choir could attend. Burns says that it is his “goal that every group that we take will get a superior rating…I guess that’s short-term for this year. That’s like number one on my brain right now.”

In terms of long-term goals, he wants to see growth. “I really would like our program to grow as much as it can,” he said. “For a school this big, with 1,800 students I think, our choir program is a little small compared to the amount of students we have.”

Another goal he has involves putting Perrysburg’s choirs on the map through music conferences, which he hopes to attend in the future with students. 

Upcoming events for Burns and the choir include the Crystal Concert, which features the PHS bands and orchestras along with the choirs, taking place on Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. and the PHS Show Choir concert on Dec. 6 at 7 p.m.

“I’m excited to be here, for sure. It’s been a crazy journey for me to actually become a teacher so I’m very very grateful for the opportunity that I have here,” Burns said.

He hopes that Perrysburg can continue to see all of the hard work that he, other teachers and students put into their projects in the years to come.

Be sure to check out other stories on eSomethin!

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