Mr. Leo Zumpetta is the K-5 music teacher and chorus director at Chadds Ford Elementary, string teacher at Hillendale Elementary, and recently, the orchestra teacher at Unionville High School. Indian Post sat down with him to discuss the change and his future plans.
Indian Post: Why did you make the switch to teaching at the high school?
LZ: One, I love strings. I love the orchestra. Two, I worked with a lot of you as young’uns, so it’s really exciting to see you all…I really wanted to teach strings and be an orchestra director, but I was really looking forward to working with the people I’d worked with years ago.
IP: How is teaching high schoolers different from teaching elementary schoolers?
LZ: Sometimes, it’s exactly the same. Sometimes, I deal with the same gibberish at the high school that I do down there. You [high schoolers] are way more independent. I can tell a high schooler to do something, and usually, they do it. I can ask for something to be done and be hands-off about it, and it works. You’re more likely to take direction and do something with it.
I can put a seed of something in your head about music or about our concert and watch it develop, whereas in elementary school, some students are like that, but usually, everything is in very small chunks. There isn’t a lot of planting seeds. It’s a lot of building something brick-by-brick and walking them through it. There’s a lot more guided learning at the elementary level, whereas the high school is way more like suggestions that you then run with.
IP: Any similarities?
LZ: It’s the same whining about stuff. The same weird not showing up to things. It’s funny. All the things that the elementary schoolers cry about [are up here]. “Why do we have to be here?” “I don’t ever need to use this.” All that stuff.
IP: What have you learned because of the change, about yourself, about others, and about music?
LZ: I’ve started to think about orchestra as a living organism. I guess I really started playing in a real orchestra when I was in seventh grade, so I’ve been playing in orchestra for years. I used to think of it more like clockwork, and it had gears, and once you got the gears running, then it just worked.
But now, I think of it more as this growing, living entity that always is changing and morphing into something new and you can’t just say, “This is how it’s going to be.” You have that in your mind, but then you have to work with what you have and what’s being produced and shape that. It’s very fluid, and I never really thought of it that way.
I always thought of it as, you get the right players, you get the right conductor, and the right music, and it just works, like any other thing you build, any machine. But it’s not a machine, it’s definitely a living, breathing thing. In terms of myself, I think I’ve had to think about how I teach and what I’m teaching a lot more.
At the elementary school, it’s almost day-to-day. What am I doing for this lesson? What am I doing for this kid? But now, it’s really like, what am I doing not just this week, but what’s my goal this month, or this year? What’s my goal in four years? I’m really looking at years down the road rather than what’s this week’s lessons.
IP: What do you see for the coming years in terms what you’re doing?
LZ: We’re going to keep on doing challenging music. I’ve got these themes in my head I want to start working into the concerts. I want to get more involved with some of the other extracurricular music stuff, like the musical. I’ve been trying to help out David with the May Play Sweeney Toad [sic].
I have the Music Composition Club that I’m trying to nurture into something. I would like to get some more string ensemble stuff, like when we had a string quartet playing earlier this year…Basically, I want to make the orchestra grow. It’s a pretty big orchestra right now, but I would love it to be so big that it’s a problem.
IP: What are your plans for next year?
LZ: In the winter, one piece I’m thinking of is the Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart. We’re probably going to do one or two original pieces from the Music Composition Club. I’d like to find a few traditional winter-time pieces, but have more of a music concert and not a holiday concert. In the spring, my plan is a French theme. French composers, they know how to write for string instruments…[George] Gershwin [despite being American] has American in Paris, so it fits. We might also do Danse Bacchanale by Saint-Saens…maybe l’Arlésienne by Bizet.