Mrs Dudley's #teachereffect at St Mary's
We want to spend this year celebrating some of our teaching staff who help make St Mary’s School, Cambridge such an inspiring place for girls to learn and flourish. We call it the #teachereffect.
Sadly, we can’t cover all our teaching staff; however, we will be showcasing several over this year in many diverse areas and from across the school, from our Junior School to our Sixth Form. We continue our series with Mrs Elise Dudley, who teaches music and Year 4 at our Junior School.
When did you start at St Mary’s?
I started at St Mary’s School in January 2016.
What did you do before you joined? (i.e. how long have you been in teaching/short bio etc)
I worked as a music teacher in Australia, specialising in the junior and middle school age groups from Reception – Year 9 as well as choral conducting, taking my choirs to eisteddfods and state competitions. I also was a choral tutor with the Australian Girls Choir, which incorporates an excellent performing arts education across singing, dancing and acting into exceptional performance opportunities for girls.
Were you always interested in music? What fuelled that interest?
Music was always a big part of my household as my mother was a flute and piano teacher and my grandmother was an opera singer. I began learning the violin in Year 3 and I always loved singing, dancing and acting. Very similar to the busy life of our St Mary’s girls, I remember every “before school”, “lunch time” and “after school” session was filled up with orchestra rehearsals, drama club, choir rehearsals and dance troop practice so it was a busy time but I loved every minute of it. I realise now that it was the friendships I made through every production or ensemble I was a part of that made performing in the arts so much fun and kept me going. When my brothers and I were old enough, my mother saw the opportunity to act as our manager and we formed a string trio together, getting gigs at weddings and busking at the local markets on the weekends for our pocket money. So perhaps it was the enticing prospect of fame and wealth that fuelled my continued interest in music? I spent many years as a cathedral chorister (very similar to King’s College Choir or St Catherine’s Choir in Cambridge) which was a real privilege for me, and meant I was able to constantly practise my sight singing every week, performing incredible pieces of choral music at a young age. If I’m ever back in Brisbane, Australia for Christmas, I’m always welcome to sing in the choir at the Christmas Midnight Mass which gives me a strong sense of tradition and community connectedness. I was also a member of many acapella choirs through university and got to tour around Australia with The Australian Voices which was a great opportunity to gain new experiences and see more of the world. On reflection, it’s nice to know that all of these experiences have shaped me into the musician I am today.
What have been your highlights of working at St Mary’s?
I enjoy working with the girls to develop and deliver our Summer Concerts. It’s a real privilege to take so many choirs and explore the repertoire that I’m interested in and I’m driven by the girls’ commitment and passion to make our performances amazing. I’ve also really embraced the charity and community aspects of school life. Being able to take our girls to events such as the Rotary Concert at Great St Mary’s each Christmas (which helps raise money for charity) or spending a day carolling at local Retirement Villages in Cambridge, allows us as a school to give back to the community and reminds me of what’s important. I’ve also really enjoyed putting on the Year 3 and 4 productions over the last three years which are a collaborative effort with our fantastic staff and students and the end result is always so much fun.
Why do you enjoy teaching?
I love working with children of all ages to foster a love of music. I believe that all aspects of the performing arts can help to develop a confident, charismatic and well-rounded person and I feel honoured to be able to instil these qualities in our girls each day. From singing, dancing and laughing in circle games during classroom music lessons, to perfecting three part harmonies in choir practice to pulling off polished and perfected dance routines in productions and concerts, all of these moments create memories and life learning opportunities that we will continue to cherish.
In your opinion what are the benefits of teaching music in an all-girls environment?
Being able to inspire and motivate young girls within an all-girls environment allows me to encourage them to achieve their full potential, which is extremely rewarding. We have so much fun together and I am able to select choral music that the girls connect with and that will empower them and develop a sense of sisterhood throughout the Junior School. The amount of fantastic SSA choral music out there is wonderful and the sound the girls make together is simply stunning. The Year 5 and 6 Full Choir performance of “Tundra” by Ola Gjeilo at the 2018 Summer Concert, in 4-part harmony, accompanied by String Quartet, was the perfect example of the sound that an all-girls choir can achieve. And other “show stoppers” such as “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, or “School Song” from Matilda, at the 2017 Summer Concert, remind me how beautifully the girls support each other and work as a team, with constant focus and determination during rehearsals and performances. We are so lucky to have an all-girls school!
What do you like to do in your free time when you are not teaching?
I love cooking while listening to music in the evenings and on weekends I enjoy hosting dinner parties where I get to cook for people and try out new dishes. I’m a keen baker, often baking anything from cakes and tarts to gingerbread houses… I do enjoy a creative challenge. I’m also really into craft, in particular knitting, crochet, looming and sewing, so most evenings you’ll find me crafting up a storm in preparation for our baby’s arrival in August.
What advice do you have for all the students you have taught – past and present – to help them on their journey in life?
Take every opportunity that comes your way and always have the confidence to put yourself out there. If things don’t work the first time, keep trying until you achieve what you set out to achieve.