“I hope to empower”: meet music education teacher LaSaundra Booth

On her first day in the orchestra in fourth grade, LaSaundra Booth arrived late.

She wanted to play the violin, but it was already assigned. She received a cello instead.

But when she sat down with the cello, Booth said she quickly fell in love with the string instrument.

That cello would be the start of Booth’s seasoned career in music and music education — a career that would see him named conductor of the National Association for Music Education’s 2021 All-National Symphony Orchestra.

Booth has been a music education lecturer in UNC’s music department since last fall. A Greensboro native, Booth said she has performed and taught in parts of the state.

Carrier start

Booth’s musical career began as a student. Throughout elementary school, she honed her skills as a cellist and was eventually invited to play with the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra as a senior in high school.

Booth said that experience inspired her to pursue a degree in music performance at NC Central University.

In 2003, Booth said she began teaching music in the public school system and has since taught at the elementary, middle, senior, and college levels. Throughout, Booth said he witnessed cuts to fine arts education funding in schools.

Determined to continue to make music accessible to students of all backgrounds and financial backgrounds, Booth founded the Wake Forest Community Youth Orchestra, a non-profit organization that provides instruments and musical training to more than 350 children in three counties.

Without public schools funding music education, she said, many students like her would miss the opportunity to play an instrument.

“When there is a child in need, who is there to help him?” Booth said. “If public schools don’t do anything about it, I’ll start my own, and that’s what we did. We don’t turn away students because of lack of instrument or inability to pay, so we kind of fill the void that our community needs.

Impact at UNC

Now at UNC, Booth teaches music education classes.

Evan Feldman, associate professor of performance, composition and music education in the Department of Music, said Booth’s legacy will continue for generations.

“I think it’s an extension of who she is,” Feldman said. “She is now molding teachers who are in some way, or are going to be, a reflection of her and are going to have some of her DNA in them.”

Senior Music Major Joe Figliolo said he worked with Booth for the past year and planned to enter the music education field. He said Booth had built a sense of confidence in him.

“She came in very passionate about making sure we got out there and as we got into our interviews, as we got into our internships and whatever it was, we always felt confident in ourselves,” Figliolo said. “She’s like when you walk into a room, there’s only one Joe Figliolo in this world.”

Moving forward

For Booth’s accomplishments as a performer and instructor, the National Association for Music Education selected her to lead the 2021 National Symphony Orchestra, which brings together talented students from across the country to perform.

This year’s set was virtual, but Booth was still able to connect with students and host virtual performances. She chose pieces by two black female composers — Mary D. Watkins and Florence Price — for the symphony to perform.

Booth said these women served as his inspiration.

“For me, directing is more than making a technically accurate or precise piece,” she said. “I really try to connect with the students. I want to know more about the composer and his journey. One of the benefits of being able to be invited is that they allow me to select what I want to perform, and I didn’t hesitate to program works by two women of color.

Whether at the elementary or college level, Booth has worked to transform music education. And going forward, she said she will continue to strive to have a positive impact on her students.

“I hope to empower,” Booth said. “If there’s one word I take to 2022, it’s ’empower.’ I want to empower the next generation of teacher leaders.

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