Kelly’s musical story (and how she found the Cubs)

This year, we have plenty of new students, and some new faces on our staff as well! We talked with our new Uptown Academy Program Manager, Kelly Dennis, about her musical story and why she belongs at TPMS.

TPMS: What is your musical story? 

Kelly: I got involved in music when I was about 6. My mom got a piano and never played it, so I taught myself. I begged my mom to take piano lessons in 5th grade and she let me. I started playing trumped and played all through high school – I participated in pit orchestra and played in a bunch of different musicals – Sweeney Todd, Little Shop of Horrors, Sound of Music. Then I decided to go to college for music. Most of my involvement now is on the educational side, and attending events in Chicago (I like funk and jazz shows especially).

TPMS: What has your musical background taught you? How does it apply to other areas of your life?

Kelly: I’d say the most important lesson is that it takes time to learn something well. Especially with an instrument, it really takes time to learn a skill. I’ve heard that it takes 10,000 hours to master anything – not just 10,000 hours of practice, but good practice. I think that can apply to anything — if you want to take up yoga, knitting, or a sport. It just takes constant, concentrated practice.

TPMS: What does music mean to you?

Kelly: It means a lot of different things. It can be a stress reliever when you’re playing with friends. It’s also a community bonding experience, whether it be the people you’re playing with or playing for. I think music is unique and wonderful because everyone can experience it in very different ways — the meaning of a song can change depending on how you look at it. It doesn’t have to mean one thing — it can mean a bunch of different things to different people, and every meaning is impactful.

TPMS: How did you decide to become involved with TPMS? What does our mission mean to you? 

Kelly: I decided to get involved with TPMS because I wanted to start teaching trumpet lessons. I didn’t really know what I was getting into until after I started, but I very quickly saw how special the mission was. It’s great to be teaching music anywhere, but TPMS is unique in that there’s a very pure focus on music here since students don’t pay for lessons. The kids just get to enjoy learning music. I didn’t really realize the difference between TPMS and other organizations until I started teaching at other places. I think the mission, and that the students know the mission, molds them into next-level musicians. They feel like it’s a gift they’ve been given – they don’t practice out of obligation. They’re more cognizant of the fact that all of these people — staff, faculty, and their families — are coming together for them to create music.

TPMS: What about working at TPMS inspires you?

Kelly: My inspiration at TPMS is watching my trumpet students, whom I’ve been teaching for 4 years, grow. I met them when they were 8, and I’ve seen them mature not only musically (they can basically play anything I put in front of them) but also emotionally. I think it’s really inspiring that without TPMS, they wouldn’t have found each other — all four of them are best friends now.

TPMS: Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

Kelly: The only reason I’m a Cubs fan is to make my dad mad. He’s a Cardinals fan, and when I moved to Chicago, he said: “You can do anything you want in Chicago, except become a Cubs fan.” So here I am.

The first time we went to a game together, he brought his friends who are die-hard St Louis fans. I bought him a hat and he threw it on the ground.

At Christmas after the Cubs won, I gave him two boxes – one marked with a “1” and one with a “2.” The boxes came with a card that asked him to choose: “Are you a winner or a loser? Winner = Box 1, Loser = Box 2.” Box 1 had a Cubs hat in it, while Box 2 had a Cardinals hat. We just went to see the two teams play each other a couple weeks ago!

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