Helping Hundreds of Students Find Their Voice
What is the goal of music education? To perfect technique? To master the classics? At People’s, the benefits of music education extend far beyond excellence in music. Our students are challenged to find and raise their voices by developing a deep and unique connection to their musical practice, and to grow as artists and individuals accordingly. One of our instructors and an honoree at our 2018 gala, Dominique Louis, has championed this approach both in the classroom and in his own development as a musician.
Dominique, an artist, teacher, and performer, has taught percussion, jazz, rock band, music theory, improvisation, and more at People’s for almost 20 years. As a Haitian immigrant, he is immensely proud of his journey to Chicago (a city settled by another Haitian immigrant, DuSable). Dominique has served as a father-figure to dozens of young men and women at the music school, providing a critical anchor in these students’ lives. In addition to teaching, Dominique is often found deep in conversation with families and in impromptu jam sessions with students. He never hesitates to drive a student home after a lesson (even if the student lives across town), and is always the last to leave a concert. We sat down with Dominique to talk about how he found and continues to raise his own voice, and how he encourages his students to do the same.
TPMS: Can you tell me a bit about how you came to Chicago? How did you find The People’s Music School?
Dominique: I came to the U.S. from Haiti after high school to go to college. I studied jazz composition — I was majoring in music and taking some education courses. I had a teacher, Dr. Etzel, who introduced me to Rita [Simo, the founder of TPMS]. We had a connection since I was from Haiti and Rita had come from the Dominican Republic.
TPMS: What’s your favorite thing about teaching at TPMS?
Dominique: It’s a way for me to learn as well as teach. Teaching reinforces all that I’ve learned. I’m still a student as much as I am a teacher – that’s what keeps me going. I’m picking up so much from my students and doing what I love every day. I’ve also learned some life lessons – particularly, how to be patient.
TPMS: Is there a special memory from teaching at TPMS that really stands out to you?
Dominique: Seeing the school when it was run by Rita, which started as just her and her secretary. I wondered how she did everything! Now it’s a whole different story. She was on top of everything – organizing and running the whole school — and when she left that was split among many different people. So it was amazing to see how much she did.
TPMS: What inspires you?
Dominique: I am inspired by the beautiful melodies, the heavenly harmonies, and the mesmerizing rhythms of music from all around the world. At TPMS, I am inspired by the talents of our youth and am very impressed by the level of musicianship they are reaching at such a fast tempo, which they are proudly displaying on stage and in concert halls. Also, the addition and growth of our newer programs such as SLAM; the guidance of so many talented teachers; and the vision and hard work of Jennifer and her all-star team, which have taken the music school to another level.
TPMS: How do you encourage your students to find and raise their voices? How did you find yours?
Dominique: I’m still finding my voice every day. Ethno-musicology is my passion – I love learning from music all around the world and putting it together, so I’m constantly molding my style. Some musicians will decide that they’ve perfected their style, and say “I’ve arrived!”, but it’s important to keep going. I’m an artist who has chosen music as his means of expression; therefore, my voice and biggest accomplishment for this lifetime and beyond is rooted in being a musician.
For my students, I want them to enjoy playing music from the start. I encourage them to relax and to be creative — after all music should be fun, and with practice, patience and perseverance they will progress. I like to let the kids be themselves — I want them to open themselves to the music and let it speak to them. I try to teach them songs they can learn, that they can relate to. I teach them to play music rather than to learn how to play in a specific way. If they’re feeling the music, that’s what is meaningful.
TPMS: What message do you have for our students?
Dominique: Be yourself! Search deep within to find your passion, and you will find your voice, your uniqueness.