Meet Christina Morton of BYOV

  • By:  Elizabeth Richards

Learn why Christina believes teaching is her most important mission.

For over 45 years, Bay Youth Orchestras of Virginia has been the premier youth orchestra program in Hampton Roads, providing training and performance opportunities to thousands of young musicians. To be a staple in the arts education scene is a great source of pride, but equally honorable is the long-standing career of Christina Morton, celebrating her 25th anniversary as conductor of two BYOV ensembles. Her contributions to BYOV have become the foundation of our mission.

TW: What do you enjoy most about teaching music in the Tidewater community? 

CM: The diversity. Tidewater has a little of everything—from homeschoolers, religion schoolers, private schoolers, public schoolers—each of these communities is very interesting to work with.

TW: What makes your work with Bay Youth Orchestras of Virginia so special to you? 

CM: The variety of students with different backgrounds in music education from all over Hampton Roads can come together and discover something new about themselves and the world we all live in, through working on some of the greatest music ever written. Music is a universal language and it transforms us all, sometimes despite ourselves.

TW: Why do you think music is important in education?

CM: Because I believe we all have musical talent. Talent needs to be developed. I enjoy the challenge of finding ways to challenge all the students, regardless of their performing level. 

Sometimes the kind of challenge I present is not what they are used to, and it is hard for them to understand that playing “harder notes” is not the only way to be challenged musically. When we find ways to take the notes on the page and use them in a variety of ways to develop our technique, we are getting the real value of music in education because students learn to expand their minds and become curious and explore instead of just playing what is in front of them.

TW: Can you share a transformational story from your teaching career? 

CM: Oh my… my career has been so varied and continually transformational that there is not one story. From teaching in a Suzuki studio, to middle and elementary school strings in the inner city, to Christian homeschoolers at a coop, to mandatory violin program for kindergarten through 5th grade at a Hebrew school, to ensemble class at a private school (before school hours), to harp ensemble program after school, and a mandatory violin program at a public inner city school elementary school, a Suzuki program at a community music school and my own private studio from my home, as well as the Bay Youth Orchestras and playing for the Virginia Symphony, and now Symphonicity—I have transformed my career so many times it is a little dizzying to think about. 

My decisions about where to teach and how long have been based on how much “joy” versus how much “work” I receive personally to keep my energy focused in any particular direction. And I love my work, so this word really means more the parts of work that are unpleasant, like discipline issues that are out of control. 

More recently, my greatest joys have been from watching my former students become teachers and make a difference in the world, and that is quite an awesome feeling.

TW: As you look back over your career, who would you say was your mentor? What did they do for you to shape you into the teacher you are today?

CM: My mentors were many. But traveling to Japan and listening to Dr. Suzuki as well as watching the many, many teachers he has trained through his method has inspired me beyond measure. 

The concept of teaching from a student’s strengths, not their weaknesses and making suggestions in a positive and supportive way that is more about using synergy than instruction, I find not only motivating but engaging and energizing.

TW: What has been your most memorable teaching experience?

CM: Every day there are memorable teaching experiences… a light bulb going off in a child’s mind reflected by a smile on their face when something has “clicked.” 

As the first teacher to both of my children, playing the Concerto for Two Violins by J.S. Bach with them for the first time was a very special moment for me.

TW: What advice would you give a student who wants to pursue a career in music?

CM: “Learn” to teach. Even if you are not that interested in teaching, study teachers because as a musician you will most undoubtedly need to teach at some point in your career. Realize that, especially in classical music, you will need to educate the public all the time about your art. Learn to be someone who has language to explain to others what your art is about and what it means to you. 

TW: Aside from teaching music, what are some of your other favorite activities?

CM: I enjoy being outdoors, whether biking (on a road bike), hiking, kayaking or camping. I enjoy reading (I am old fashioned and read the newspaper delivered to my door everyday), sewing, cooking and gardening.

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