Future Music Educator Crowned Miss Kansas

Elizabeth Dale

In July, Taylor Clark, a music education major at Kansas State University, was named Miss Kansas. Clark is using her year of service to communicate the importance of music education programs to the masses, facilitate challenging conversations harnessing the power of music, and plans to create future generations of music makers as a teacher.

The Miss Kansas organization facilitates competitions at the local and state level for participants to “gain experience through participation in interviews, talent performances, public speaking, promoting individual social impact initiatives, and social/digital media interaction.” To become Miss Kansas, participants must compete and advance from their regional competition to a state-level competition, with winners earning scholarships at each level.

Clark harnessed her talent as a multi-instrumentalist, demonstrating her prowess on the drums to help secure her win at the competition. Her style, inspired by the greats like Roy Burns, Gene Krupa, and Buddy Rich with a touch of her love of Elton John and the "Mayor of The NAMM Show" himself, Stevie Wonder, creates a one-of-a-kind experience for her audiences.

We spoke with Clark about her future career and the impact of music on her life.

What are your professional goals upon graduation?

Upon graduation, I will be a certified K-12 band, choir, and orchestra teacher. Ultimately, my professional goal is to have my own high school band in Kansas. I come from a long line of educators and witnessing the student interactions and relationships that they built is the driving factor behind my decision to teach. I hope to find a school and community that I love, create deep-running roots, and have a long and successful teaching career. I cannot imagine how special it will be to watch my students grow and go on to do great things. If, as their band teacher, I can play some small part in that and make a small change in their life, that would mark a fulfilling career.

Can you provide a brief explanation of Sound for Common Ground: Music Connects? Is there a way for our audience to support your endeavors with this social impact initiative?

‘Sound for Common Ground: Music Connects' focuses on the positive effects and unifying force of music. As part of my responsibilities as Miss Kansas, I travel with a set of five-gallon buckets and use music as an ice breaker before having courageous conversations. Participants are free to share about inequities, personal hardships, and issues facing our world. This activity, which I call ‘bucket beats,’ has been implemented in classrooms, libraries, board rooms, and more. We can all rally around the force of music. The music does not have to be perfect, but even with simple instruments of buckets and sticks, we can openly discuss the change we wish to see in the world that may otherwise be too difficult to talk about. 

When did your passion for music begin?

I remember attending the Miss Kansas competition for the first time at five years old. The candidate that mentored me at the event was a piano player, and I was captivated by her piano performance in the talent competition. We always had a piano in the home as my brother took lessons, and when I turned seven, I started taking lessons because I wanted to be just like him. When I was eight, my brother purchased an electric guitar, but he did not have any bandmates to play with him, so, with the help of my grandmother, they surprised me with a drum set for my birthday. At first, I was not exactly keen on the idea because I had hoped to play flute or trumpet when I got to band. However, I fell in love with my drum set and continued to play into middle school beginning band, which expanded my percussion horizons for the first time. In junior high, I started taking drum lessons from our band teacher, and it was at this time that I auditioned for my first honor band. In eighth grade, I made the district honor band and, during the final concert, I decided I wanted to be a band teacher. Getting to play alongside students who loved music as much as I did, play quality literature for our age, and experience the final product was so impactful. I knew this was something I never wanted to let go of and that I needed to share that joy with students like me in the future.

Were you involved in music programs during your time in school?

I was always involved with music programs in school. We had a strong elementary music program that began in kindergarten and continued through fourth grade. By fifth grade, we were able to start with beginning band instruments. I continued to play throughout middle school and junior high, and by high school, I got a new percussion teacher, starting my fiery passion for percussion. Despite the high school band's size (only about ten people), I played in as many bands as I could find. I would travel to the neighboring town to play in the community city band, community orchestra, and community college band, and even performed with a jazz band on occasion. Despite the small school music program, it was still my favorite class, and I loved going to band every day.

Do you credit any individuals for serving as your musical inspiration? What about pursuing music education?

I have been fortunate to have many positive musical influences, including my high school drum teacher, Kurtis Koch; band teacher, Mac Knight; and piano teacher, Gayle Cornwell, all of whom influenced me to pursue music education professionally. As a college student, my professors Dr. Kurt Gartner and Neil Dunn, continue to push and challenge me as I prepare for my career. I will forever be grateful for all the lessons, conversations, tips, advice, emails, calls, and visits throughout the years. Their passion for the profession, encouragement, and interest in my life steered me onto the path of music education.

What advice would you give to students considering a career in music education?

To students considering a career in music education, first find a school and primary professor that you feel comfortable working with and one who will push you to grow. I would encourage you to take lessons from this professor before auditioning, get a feel for campus life, and visit the various bands and ensembles offered. This way, you can find the best fit for you as you prepare to learn and grow. In addition, arm yourself with some basic piano and aural skills before college, and do not forget to keep practicing your instrument! Upon entering your college career, your schedule may seem like the busiest it has ever been. Between classes, practicing, rehearsals, friends, and a job, you may feel like you have no time to yourself. I would encourage you to keep a strict planner, write down every due date and event, and plan out your semester as soon as you get the syllabus. By staying organized, you can take the time to enjoy your friends and build relationships that will last a lifetime. College is such a special time, and it goes by very quickly!

How has your passion for music shaped your life in the context of your professional goals and your pageant career?

Growing up, I was a shy child, and music, specifically percussion, helped me find my voice. I felt that percussion was a male-dominated field, and I was often one of the few females at auditions, rehearsals, and bands. At first, this intimidated me, but I practiced hard and leaned on my skills to claim my space in the percussion scene. Even at Kansas State, I am the only female in the percussion studio, but this is where I have met some of my best friends. Music helps me find and use my voice to stand up for what I love and communicate that love to others through performing and teaching. Additionally, my experiences in the Miss America and Miss Kansas organization helped me grow my confidence and provided public speaking experience and interview skills. Pairing the two together helped my development and growth, making me the young woman I am today.

Miss America KS Performance Video

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To learn more about Clark and her music-based social impact initiative, please visit https://www.misskansas.org/ or follow her on Instagram @missamericaks.

NAMM and The NAMM Foundation offer multiple opportunities for students, like Clark, who are pursuing a career in music education, the music products industry, and related fields. GenNext is a “collaboration between The NAMM Foundation and The College Music Society that offers college music students and faculty professional programming with access to career and professional development sessions.” The program allows current students studying music, music business, music technology, or music education and college-level music faculty members access to The NAMM Show. Once at the show, participants will have the opportunity to attend dynamic educational sessions, networking events, award shows, concerts and performances, and access to thousands of brands within the industry.

The NAMM President’s Innovation Award is another opportunity for students to attend The NAMM Show. The award “honors college students who demonstrate excellence in the field of music. Winners have proved dedication to pursuing a career in music to include the areas of music performance, music education, media, sound engineering/audio, event technology, production, administration, management, and/or marketing, along with product creation and innovation.”

For more information about both GenNext and the President’s Innovation Award, please visit https://www.nammfoundation.org/projects/gennext and https://www.nammfoundation.org/innovation.