New Music Teacher Aims to Help Students Expand their Repertoires


Bridget Cording

Ms. Ussi, who joined the Nanuet High School teaching staff in September, is all smiles as she poses for a picture.

Ms. Keilah Ussi, a new addition to Nanuet High School’s Music Department, grew up in a home surrounded by music. An environment filled with music set Ms. Ussi’s stage for a lifelong love of music, and later, paved the way for her becoming a teacher.

“Overall, I would say that my love of music doesn’t have a specific [single] inspiration,” she said. “Although my family isn’t super musically inclined, they did always have music on in the house, the car, and I’d come home to random stress-release dance parties in the family room. My Uncle Sherry was also very into music, and he and I shared some moments chatting about music, but for as long as I can remember, I’ve been singing and drumming on the table.”

Ms. Ussi teaches Mixed Chorus alongside Mrs. Dobelle, as well as AP Music Theory and Intro to Theater. Additionally, she runs the school’s Concert Choir. While this is her first year teaching, she gained valuable experience previously as a student teacher, and said she was heavily impacted by music teachers from her past. 

 “I was inspired to enter the profession by a number of music teachers in my life who were all inspiring to me,” she said. “Even from the time I was in middle school, my band and chorus teachers (Mr. and Mrs. Light) were huge influences in my life, not only as teachers and musicians, but as mentors, as well.” 

Her high school music teachers also played a major role in steering her toward this profession, according to Ms. Ussi. 

“[They] provided me with opportunities to teach private lessons and act as an assistant conductor for the middle school music ensembles,” she said. “That experience really made it clear to me that teaching music was a great passion of mine!” 

Because of her deep passion for music, Ms. Ussi even has some funny memories of times as a child where she could not get music off her mind.

“I even got in trouble in school once for humming in class while the teacher was talking,” she recalled. “I was paying attention, I swear. I just always had music on/in my head.”

The pattern continued for her throughout college, she explained, where she finally gained real, practical experience in the profession.  

“When I was in my senior year of college, I had to go do student teaching,” says Ms. Ussi. “I taught high school band and chorus; this is my first official high school teacher position.”  

Teaching music goes beyond music instruction for Ms. Ussi, who said she also wants to help students branch out in terms of their listening repertoire and worldviews. 

“I’d say I hope that my goal for teaching in general is to get students to understand that music is a part of life,” said Ms. Ussi. “It’s not just a class in school, but to appreciate music and continue to go to concerts, continue to go check out music that’s not [the kind ] that they always listen to.”

Ultimately, she explained, she wants students to explore new and different types of music, “especially the kind that they wouldn’t necessarily gravitate to naturally.” 

Ms. Ussi also recently helped out with the musical production of Annie Jr. at A. MacArthur Barr Middle School, an experience which she said was both challenging and rewarding. 

I would say that the most difficult part of putting on Annie Jr. was just adapting to the space,” she said. “I think that Mrs. Royal, Mr. Kronberg and the kids did a really great job of adapting to the space in an intelligent way, and what was once a challenge actually became a strength of the performance. There was wonderful blocking and choreography done. It was an intelligent and creative way to advance the show rather than hold it back.”

Now that she is here at Nanuet High School, Ms. Ussi said she hopes to be as large a positive influence for her students and the Nanuet Music Department as her own teachers were for her.