Mary Theresa Reed, ETHS Director of Choirs, grew up with music around her and provides that experience for others. Photo By Mary Mumbrue

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Evanston Township High School’s Department of Music – named a Grammy Signature Award School three times – is a superb resource for its students. That goes for beginners as well as for students already invested in music before arriving at high school.  This is the second in a series of articles that takes a look at the remarkable people who lead the department. The first (Aug. 2) introduced Charles Abplanalp, director of orchestral music; this article will present Theresa Reed, director of choral music. The next will feature David Fodor, director of bands, who retires at the end of this year.

Mary Theresa Reed was born in Chicago; she grew up in Hyde Park. As the daughter of jazz vocalist-pianist Freddy Reed and a mom who sang in church (whose best friend was jazz bandleader Lil Hardin Armstrong), Ms. Reed grew up with “music around her.” She has a sister in California and three brothers in Chicago – one of whom has been the church organist at Kenwood Community Church in Hyde Park since he was 17. 

Ms. Reed’s appreciation for music of all kinds, and perhaps for education itself, was informed by her dad’s multifaceted training in both classical and popular genres. Her own educational background is, to say the least, extensive.

When she finished high school, Ms. Reed first went to the University of Denver as a voice (soprano) performance major. While in Colorado, she says, she thought about her 10 years as camper and counselor at YMCA Camp McLean in Burlington, Wis., and how much she enjoyed kids. This led her to transfer to Roosevelt University back in Chicago, where she earned her bachelor of music degree in music education.

From there, Ms. Reed taught general music at a Catholic school for a time before doing a two-year master’s in choral conducting at University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. She taught for a semester at the Latin School in Chicago, where she had done her student teaching. Evanston’s School District 65 brought her here, where she taught general music at Dawes for six years and at Chute for 11; 14 of the 17 years Ms. Reed spent with District 65 she was department chair. She has also done doctoral studies in music education at University of Michigan on top of her master’s in school leadership from Concordia College.

Ms. Reed came to be director of choirs at Evanston Township High School in 1993, when M. Milner Siefert left after 34 years. When she started, she says, she oversaw five or six groups. The main groups were Chorale, Concert Choir and Chorus, the last for those with no experience. She says  “the job here has changed a lot.” ETHS now has 11 groups in total. And Ms. Reed works with them all.

“We really do get to know these kids, – because we know them for the whole four years. That’s much beyond the one year or the one semester that other teachers get,” says Ms. Reed.

The ETHS Concert Choir is the more advanced choir. All freshmen who want to sing begin with Chorale. Students who are new, such as sophomores who want to begin vocal music, or transfers, come sing for Ms. Reed for placement. These two traditional choirs meet daily.

Co-curricular, pass/fail “vocal lab” groups at ETHS include the jazz vocal choir, in which about 45 students are typically involved, and some smaller ensembles. “The vocal jazz program has taken off,” Ms. Reed says. Other lab groups include “ETHS a Capella,” an unaccompanied group of 35; “Circle of Fifths,” a barber shop group; “Dazzling Dames,” a girls’ group of 12 that sings a variety of material, mostly show tunes and jazz; and a quartet of girls called “The Treble Makers,” who have sung together since the 8th grade.

Ms. Reed also supervises four private voice teachers for students who wish to take private lessons. The teachers are professional musicians who sing with the Chicago Symphony Chorus. Ms. Reed teaches multiple-student voice classes (as well as classes on other musical subjects).The private lessons cost $22 for a half-hour lesson, or $25 for a period-long one. Scholarships are available, too.

One busy time for Ms. Reed and ETHS vocalists is in December, arranging holiday performances and rehearsals for the choirs and ensembles. Another is in the spring, with both the spring musical and the spring choral concerts. Last year, the music divisions came together to present “Oliver.” She also organized a concert that presented student soloists in recital, and another, the Spring Choral Concert, which featured ETHS vocal ensembles.

The choirs travel, as do the instrumentalists’ groups, to broaden their experience in listening, playing and performing.
In 2008-09 they traveled to Rome, Florence and Venice; in 2011-12, they went to Greece. The coming year will be a time to raise funds for the choirs’ next trip, says Ms. Reed, so they may travel to Hawaii, Seattle or perhaps Washington, D.C.

Ms. Reed, who serves the Illinois Music Educators’ Association as the multicultural area chair, says of Evanston, “This is a really special place to work. I love the diversity.”  Her feelings are evident in how she speaks of her students and the challenges they meet together. They are eager to learn and she is eager to teach.