Elena Cousin’s love for music started as soon as she was old enough to pick up a violin. By eighth grade, she knew music had to stay in her life, and UNC Greensboro has helped her find the right note, while preparing her to help others do the same.
In December 2023, Cousin will graduate with a bachelor of music – concentrating in instrumental/general education from UNCG’s School of Music and with honors from the Lloyd International Honors College.
Cousin came to UNCG studying for a bachelor of arts in music, with the hopes of earning a spot in the music education program. Students interested in pursuing a bachelor of music in performance or bachelor of music in music education at UNCG must apply both to the University and to the School of Music separately, which includes an audition. But Cousin says performing was not her strength.
“Auditioning was nerve-wracking, and my audition material was not great,” she says. “It took me about a year with private lessons and getting to know the faculty before I re-auditioned for the music program.”
NO HOLDING BACK
As she struggled with auditioning, Cousin thought back to her time in middle school when she tutored friends in math. A high school teacher also suggested a career in music education. Their compliments on her teaching skills reminded her of the passion had for teaching.
“I didn’t feel like my performance skills should hold me back from educating others,” she says.
And UNCG faculty members encouraged her to not give up throughout the difficult audition process.
“Faculty members suggested music education because I love education and was an advocate for music education specifically. It was something I could do and keep music in my life.
Music is not only a passion for Cousin – but a way of connecting, including with her own family.
“My family doesn’t play instruments, but there was always music playing in the house. My great-grandfather played the fiddle, so it’s also a connection to relatives that I never had the chance to meet.”
Music also became a way for Cousin to bond with others at UNCG. During her first year, she struggled with talking to people but says the School of Music made her feel welcome.
“There were times where I didn’t feel like I had friends or teachers I could talk with,” she says. “But going into the Music Building, people wave at you and say ‘hi,’ even if you don’t know them.”
FINDING A MUSIC FAMILY
She soon joined the Kappa Gamma chapter of Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity. The fraternity is open to anyone who identifies with she/her or they/them pronouns.
“Suddenly, I had so many friends that I could reach out to for help,” she says. “It could be hard for a lot of the fraternity members to make female friends, especially those who grew up with brothers or are in male-dominated spaces. So, this was an easy way for us to have a pipeline to sisterhood.”
“The orchestra and string focused students connect with Dr. MacLeod because she is the president of the American String Teachers Association and is passionate about music education,” Cousin says. “Dr. Walters is always checking in on us and is willing to help with any problems we have.”
As a College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) ambassador, Cousin has also worked to share her love of music with prospective students and hopefully provide a welcoming space for them, like the School of Music did for her.
“I feel a sense of ease knowing I have given these prospective students an idea of what to expect, that I am a person they can communicate with going forward, so they don’t feel so alone,” Cousin says. “It’s always a joy to see how everyone’s passions come together at UNCG within CVPA. Getting to see the next group of students coming in helps fill me with hope that our community will only continue to improve and become more impactful.”
PLAYING IT FORWARD
Since Fall 2023, Cousin has been student teaching in her hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina.
“One thing that surprises me with teaching is that you might have a lesson completely thought out, but the everyday issues the kids are facing, even just their emotions, might create a hurdle,” says Cousin. “You have to adapt.”
While Cousin started by just teaching a few classes occasionally, she is now teaching lessons for all the classes.
“With teaching elementary school, you have the ability to get the lesson better each time you teach it,” she says. “For example, if I’m teaching kindergarten students for the whole week, I have multiple opportunities to improve on my teaching as the week goes on.”
After graduation, Cousin plans to continue teaching in Fayetteville. It’s a full circle moment for her, bringing her UNCG education to her hometown, making an impact, and doing what she set out to do from the start – keeping music in her life.
Story by Avery Craine Powell, University Communications
Photography by Sean Norona, University Communications
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