On her first day of orchestra in the fourth grade, LaSaundra Booth arrived late.
She wanted to play the violin, but it had already been assigned. She was given a cello instead.
But when she sat down with the cello, Booth said she quickly fell in love with the string instrument.
That cello would be the beginning of Booth's seasoned career in music and music education — a career that would lead her to being named the National Association for Music Education 2021 All-National Symphony Orchestra's conductor.
Booth has been a lecturer of music education in the UNC Department of Music since last fall. Originally from Greensboro, Booth said she has performed and taught in areas across the state.
Booth's music career began as a student. Throughout grade school, she honed her skills as a cellist and eventually was invited to play with the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra as a senior in high school.
Booth said this experience inspired her to pursue a degree in music performance at N.C. Central University.
In 2003, Booth said she began teaching music in the public school system, and has since taught at the elementary, middle, high and collegiate levels. Throughout this time, Booth said she witnessed cuts to fine arts education funding in schools.
Determined to continue making music accessible for students of all backgrounds and financial statuses, Booth founded the Wake Forest Community Youth Orchestra, a nonprofit organization that provides instruments and musical training to over 350 children across three counties.
Without public schools funding music education, she said, many students like herself would miss out on the opportunity to play instruments.
“When there’s a child in need, who’s there to help them?” Booth said. “If public schools won’t do anything about it, I’ll just start my own, and that’s what we did. We don’t turn students away because of a lack of an instrument or inability to pay, so we kind of fill the void that is needed in our community.”
Impact at UNC
Now at UNC, Booth teaches courses in music education.
Evan Feldman, associate chair professor of performance, composition and music education in the Department of Music, said Booth's legacy will be one that continues for generations.
“I think it’s an extension of who she is,” Feldman said. “She's molding teachers now that are in some way, or going to be, a reflection of her and are going to have some of her DNA in them.”
Senior music major Joe Figliolo said he has worked with Booth this past year, and plans to enter the field of music education. He said Booth has built a sense of confidence in him.
“She came in very passionate about making sure that we go into the field and as we go into our interviews, as we go into our internships and whatever it may be, we just always feel confident in ourselves,” Figliolo said. “She’s like when you walk into a room there’s only one Joe Figliolo in this world.”
For Booth's accomplishments as a performer and instructor, the National Association for Music Education selected her to conduct the 2021 All-National Symphony Orchestra, which brings talented students from across the country together to perform.
This year’s ensemble was virtual, but Booth still got to connect with students and hold virtual performances. She chose pieces from two Black female composers — Mary D. Watkins and Florence Price — for the symphony to perform.
Booth said these women served as inspirations for her.
“For me, conducting is more than just doing a piece technically accurate or precise,” she said. “I really try to build a connection with the students. I want to know about the composer and their background. One of the great things about being able to get invited to them is that they allow me to select what I want to perform, and I did not hesitate to program works by two women of color.”
Whether at the elementary or collegiate level, Booth has worked to transform music education. And moving forward, she said she will continue to strive to positively impact her students.
“I hope to empower,” Booth said. “If there’s one word I’m taking into 2022, it’s 'empower.' I want to empower the next generation of teacher leaders.”
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