Big Shoes to Fill: NHS welcomes a new choir teacher


O’Dowd helps lead the NHS Singers in yoga. The Singers are one of the four show choirs at NHS.

Gabe Fryling and Andie Harmon

Diction. Vowels. Mouth shape. These may sound weird to you, but these phrases are everyday terms for a choir teacher, stressing them to their students through the layers of their mask. It’s very difficult to do, but for new NHS Choir teacher Shannan O’Dowd, it’s just part of her new job.


Being an Atlanta Native, O’Dowd has had lots of experience in choirs, having sung and taught them. Going into her sixth year of teaching choirs, she has worked with many conductors and mentors that have helped shape her to be a successful teacher. But she is still beginning a new challenge: stepping into a field that she hasn’t done much with before. 


“I grew up in traditional, stand and sing choirs. We did choir shows like show choir where we’d learn choreography but not legit show choir,” O’Dowd said, “[Show Choir] is the polar opposite, as I look at show choir being  like all of the best ensemble numbers just back to back to back to back.”


O’Dowd wasn’t alone in this new transition, she had some help from John Neubauer, who also teaches choir. Neubauer is a veteran in show choir, helping the show choirs at NHS become where they are today. 


“Mr. Neubauer has been awesome and kinda took me under his wing when I started, and said ‘don’t worry, it’ll be great’… we’re so polar opposite that we balance each other really well,” O’Dowd said. 


Being good to her students is the most important part of O’Dowd’s career. She always wants to do better than her best, and the same goes for her students. She hopes to lead her new students to success. 


“I left to continue my education, learning to be a better teacher and conductor,” O’Dowd said.


NHS isn’t the only school O’Dowd has taught at, and she has a long resume of successful choirs schools she’s taught at or been taught at. Ranging from high schools to top schools such as Louisiana State University, she’s been well prepared for her job. 


“I taught for three years in Atlanta, Georgia… at Johns Creek High school.Then moved to Baton Rouge, and was the graduate conducting assistant at LSU for their choral program,” O’Dowd said.


But before LSU, O’Dowd embarked on her collegiate musical career near her home in Georgia. Even though she stayed close to home, O’Dowd still attended a very successful school of music. 


“For undergrad, I went for four years getting my choral music education degree at Kennesaw State,” said O’Dowd, “I originally wanted to do music therapy, then I fell in love with the choral program at Kennesaw.”


O’Dowd has a history with music, and since a young age she’s always had a passion for it. Because she can relate to her students by being in choir at their age, it will be helpful for her students to connect with her on their shared experiences.


“I joined music and choir in fourth grade, then in sixth grade, I was in my first big actual choir that wasn’t a mixed choir. Then in seventh grade, the first mixed choir I was in was the Georgia all state choir. It’s the top 400 kids in the state,” O’Dowd said.


This passion for music O’Dowd has is shared between her and her students. She wants to win and make her groups great, and she’s been very vocal about those goals to her students.


“I like her a lot… It’s very motivating to work with her because she has very obvious goals and wants the best from us, and that motivates us to do good,” said senior Olivia Stevenson said, who is a member of the NHS Singers, NHS’s varsity show choir.


Being well liked by your students is a huge part of being a good teacher and that is something O’Dowd has done well according to her students. She knows how to be a good teacher and help build her students to be better singers, while still having fun. 


 “She’s very driven and determined… She also has a loving side,” senior NHS singers member Alex Dyar said. “It’s going to take some time to get used to as she’s very straight-forward with her goals but that’ll benefit us in the end.”


Filling in for a teacher can be difficult, especially in groups like Singers where everyone is close and knows each other well, but O’Dowd says the transition has been easier than she thought, and her students agree.


“Many students have said similar things about how well she has filled up the spot and how she didn’t have a hard time finding her ground,” senior Isaac Rayls said, who is another member of the NHS singers. 


The students being open-minded to her is something O’Dowd has said has made her transient much easier. But even with this help O’Dowd has gotten, it may still be frightening to step into a new class, full of kids you don’t know who they are or what they’re like, and having to teach them all. It’s a daunting task, but O’Dowd says she is up for the challenge.


“I love it, I’m not easily intimidated but I was a bit nervous as it’s so different from what I was used to, but I realized everything I’ve done up to this point has prepared me more than enough to do something like this,” O’Dowd said.