Celebrating Inclusivity and Inspiration


Naeaidria Callihan, a choir teacher at Wilmer-Hutchins High School, has a remarkable journey filled with inspiration, diversity, and a love for music. She began her career with Dallas ISD at Seagoville Middle School, where she spent two years teaching Modern Band.

Callihan’s musical journey started at a young age pretending to be a teacher, with teddy bears and dolls as audience.

She recalls, “I would line my teddy bears and dolls up along the wall and give them the lesson and then ‘direct’ them as they were singing. It seems so silly now, but as I grew up and was a part of some spectacular choral programs, it solidified that creating the space for kids to love making music together was what I wanted to do.”

Her involvement in choral programs and her relation to the Black church greatly influenced her musical identity.

“Now, I have a formal classical music education, but I grew up in the Black church—Missionary Baptists, to be exact. There I learned gusto, projection, passion, and a deeper connection to our audience or congregation,” she said.

Callihan is passionate about ensuring that everyone can experience the joy of music in a safe and personally meaningful environment. She focuses on creating strong relationships and empowering her students to take ownership of their musical journey.

“I always make sure to put my students in positions where they win. Because then I don’t have to do much convincing, they feel it,” she said.

Diversity and inclusivity are essential to Callihan’s teaching philosophy.

“I do my best to study all methods, genres, styles, languages, and religious observances. Is it perfect? No. But I do believe it also incorporates acceptance in my kids,” she explains. By highlighting the similarities among different cultures and celebrating their unique expressions, she builds a sense of unity among her students.

Recognizing the historical contributions of Black musicians is a vital aspect of Callihan’s curriculum. She introduces her students to the incredible talents of artists such as the Aeolians, Moses Hogan Chorale, Leontyne Price, and Mahalia Jackson, creating opportunities for students of color to feel represented in the world of classical choral music.

One of Callihan’s most memorable experiences occurred during a difficult first year at a new campus. Even though the students initially resisted the choir, she managed to inspire them and turn their disinterest into enthusiasm.

“The Winter Program was the icing on the cake—hearing parents sniffling, clapping, and overjoyed with their students’ work was amazing. And now, my students will not stop asking me when the next performance will be,” Callihan said.

However, the path is not without its challenges. Callihan points out the differences in resources among school districts, affecting the students’ overall experience.

“Our students don’t have costumes, practice rooms, or even an auditorium that is equipped for a performance. It truly sets our students up to have a less than favorable experience at state and district competitions.”

To address these challenges, Callihan advocates for a more inclusive approach to music education. She emphasizes the importance of supporting the community and modifying the curriculum according to the students’ interests and strengths.

In Callihan’s view, choir programs play an important role in creating a sense of belonging and providing a space for communal expression.

“Music is the communication of the soul; it is healing, refreshing, expressive, rejuvenating, and the list could go on and on. We need that in our world.”

To celebrate Black History Month, Callihan integrates the celebration of African Americans and the arts into her lessons. She believes it is essential for students to understand the impact Black musicians have had on the music industry and the world as a whole.

In the field of choir education, Callihan envisions a future where inclusivity, diverse studies, and a variety musical selections create an environment where students of color feel represented and inspired.

“This is not a one-size-fits-all situation.” As she keeps on growing her passion for teaching, Callihan is not only guiding musicians but also promoting an inclusive community where everyone’s voice can be heard.

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