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Training aspiring musicians in the Upstate

In early March, South Carolina Gamecock fans headed to the Bon Secours Wellness Arena for the Southeastern Conference women’s basketball tournament, taking their infectious spirit to the streets and restaurants of Greenville. But they didn’t just bring Gamecock Nation to the Upstate—they joined the thousands of Carolina fans and alums there.

In the spirit of this occasion, we caught up with Lauren Vaughn, a School of Music 2016 DMA graduate teaching flute at Greenville’s SC Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities

Why did you choose the USC School of Music to earn your DMA?

I considered three critical factors when applying to Doctoral programs - the flute professor, the teaching opportunities as a graduate assistant, and the location. I left South Carolina after graduating high school. I slowly started seeing students of Jennifer Parker-Harley, who was then a recent hire at USC, popping up as winners and finalists in many flute competitions. While finishing my master’s degree in California, I reached out to my former teachers in SC, who had nothing but great things to share about Jennifer and her teaching. I learned more about the teaching opportunities for graduate assistants at USC and was excited about the possibility of moving closer to home after living away for six years.

Please share your career path so far, which led you to teach flute at the SC Governor’s School of the Arts and play with the SC Philharmonic.

I have wanted a career as a teacher my entire life, and I feel lucky that most of what I do daily includes working in the studio and the classroom with creative young musicians. I love performing on the flute and am invested in learning and bringing students along with me on this beautiful journey of musical exploration. I earned all my music performance degrees, but I always knew I wanted teaching to hold the most essential place in my musical life. Before joining the Governor’s School, I taught for seven years at Newberry College. I gained invaluable experience teaching applied lessons, coaching chamber ensembles, and teaching classes there. I also spent many years working directly with the admissions office to help students apply and audition for a music major at Newberry. Because of my time at Newberry, I gained a broader perspective on the responsibilities of educating students and how even the seemingly insignificant day-to-day interactions with students have a lasting impact on learning.  

I love performing in orchestras and for various ensembles around the state. The SC Philharmonic is a fantastic community organization, and I enjoy performing with them each season. Before my position with the SC Phil, I held the position of Second Flute with the Augusta Symphony for seven seasons — a position I won just a few days after graduating with my doctorate from USC. I have also performed as guest principal flute of the Greenville Symphony and Asheville Symphony and performed as principal flute of the Aiken Symphony for six seasons. My performance career always impacts my approach to teaching young musicians, and I enjoy remaining connected with all the professional musicians in our state.

I remain oddly thankful to the pandemic for giving me time for much-needed soul-searching. It led me to move from Columbia back to Greenville, my hometown, with my husband, son, and two pups. In my work at the Governor’s School, I especially appreciate that my position allows me to impact music education in South Carolina directly. I believe firmly in investing in students and education, and I love doing that at my alma mater; I graduated from the Residential High School program at SCGSAH. 

How has your education at the USC School of Music helped your life and career?

First, the flute studio and our flute professor value learning and process-driven education. I gained excellent teaching experience as a graduate assistant for the flute studio, and I learned so much by observing my wonderful classmates and our teacher. Probably the most impactful things I have taken away from my time at USC are the importance of bringing humanity to the music classroom and remaining open and available to any opportunity that might come your way. While at USC, I had many opportunities to develop practical knowledge and skills further. I also attended inspiring Southern Exposure concerts, thought-provoking Spark events, and other exciting new initiatives that deepened my excitement for this field. After years of preparation, practice, and patience, it feels like I am exactly where I belong. 

I’m increasingly realizing how much my time at USC studying with Dr. Jennifer Parker-Harley nurtured my teaching philosophy and engagement with learning.

— Lauren Vaughn (DMA, ’16)

What advice would you give current students or recent graduates pursuing a music performance or music education career?

First, it’s essential to consider that the music world is small, and many opportunities will come your way by the recommendation of a classmate or a former teacher. I learned quickly in a music-centric high school environment the importance of respecting my peers, growing my artistic skills, and earning a favorable reputation as a person and a musician. Second, I would say seek out an environment where you feel challenged to grow your skills but also supported to discover your authentic self. Avoid subjecting yourself to environments where students are leveraged for an instructor’s personal or professional gain, and steer clear of toxic studio environments. The music world is tough enough. No one needs to be knocked down before they have a chance. Third, I encourage all students to remain open to opportunities and, when necessary, clear their path for a career that speaks to them. It takes time and patience to discover what you truly love and how you want to contribute to the world. We are all on slightly different schedules; some will arrive before you. The more you open yourself up to the world of opportunities in music, the more opportunities you will see and have. 

Do you have any upcoming performances or projects you want to share?

I am building resources for woodwind teachers and students, including information and approaches for practicing scales and learning techniques on their instruments. Beginning next school year, these will be available free of charge for any SC teacher or student through our Outreach office. 

The world music class I teach began preparations for our Spring World Music Showcase. In addition to learning about and contextualizing cultural music practices worldwide, we have explored musical practices through experiential workshops where students actively create music using non-western instruments, techniques, and philosophies. We will share that journey and some performances and learning demonstrations in April.

I have one more performance with the SC Philharmonic this season, including Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. I am performing in an upcoming chamber series concert with the Greenville Symphony and the live orchestra for their May 4th Star Wars movie concert. I am also preparing to serve in my first year as summer music chair for our Governor’s School summer programs. We have some exciting new programs for 7th-9th grade SC music students, and I look forward to a great summer of learning and fun with these young musicians.  

Topics: Flute Studio, Music Degree Programs


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