Director of Upper School Instrumental Music Chris Rydel
As printed in the Summer 2020 Perspectives magazine

Chris Rydel, director of Upper School Instrumental Music, joined Country Day in 2000, building a strong  performance program and close ties with her talented students. Outside of Country Day, she serves as  executive director and manager of the Youth Orchestras of Charlotte. Chris received degrees in both clarinet performance and music education from New England Conservatory of Music, and her master’s in arts administration from Winthrop University.

You teach and conduct both band and orchestra. How challenging is that?

In order to best guide and mentor my students, I had to learn how to play every instrument in the band and orchestra. Teaching band and orchestra are musically very similar, yet there are some big differences as the conductor. For instance, when I am conducting the band, there can be more than 25 different parts going on at the same time. Not all the band instruments are pitched in the same key, and how the sounds are made on their instruments varies greatly as they all have vastly different mechanics and playing techniques. In my years of teaching, I have come to find that most orchestra teachers do not want to lead a band. Some band
teachers will entertain the thought of leading an orchestra. I love teaching at Country Day because I have the best of both worlds!

What do you like most about teaching music at Country Day?

When I was growing up, my music teachers were passionate about their work—they made sure that students always had access to every musical opportunity possible. I love that now I am able to give back those same life-changing opportunities to my students. It has been an absolute joy to watch my students excel and reach for the next level, including participation in the NCAIS Honor Band, All-District Band, Western Regional Orchestras, All-State Band, All-State Orchestra, and the All-National Honors Symphony Orchestra. I enjoy attending every audition and clinic weekend with them, along with the added bonus of getting to know them better. Outside of these shared moments, Country Day students have been chosen to attend NC Governor’s School, elite summer music festivals, and have participated in local honors wind ensembles and youth orchestras. I feel very fortunate that my program has grown and that I can teach all my students to appreciate what it takes to be a musician. I love showing my students how the skills we learn through playing in an ensemble can translate into everything they do in their lives now and in the future: self-discipline, perseverance, leadership, negotiation, collaboration, communication, and teamwork.

You also make an impact with Charlotte-area young musicians. Explain your work.

I had been managing the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra since before I came to Country Day. In that time, quite a few Country Day students auditioned and were chosen to participate in those ensembles. In 2018, I helped to create and became the executive director and manager of the Youth Orchestras of Charlotte for students in grades 4–12. We currently have over 200 students in our four ensembles. In February, the YOC performed at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. It was so rewarding to travel with 83 of the best student musicians in the greater Charlotte area, including two of my Country Day band students—Armando Chardiet and Kurt Steelman. I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity to lead and impact Charlotte’s performing arts community. I believe I provide a unique perspective between the two organizations, helping to expose Country Day students to opportunities in the greater Charlotte arts scene while also being an ambassador for Country Day in the same manner.

What is your most memorable moment during your time at Country Day?

There are so many it’s hard to narrow it down. My favorite moment as a teacher was when our “small, but mighty” orchestra earned a Superior rating in Orlando in 2007. Being very pregnant with my son, Sean, in mid-May 2006, also stands out. I was relieved to make it to conduct the Spring Concert on May 17; later that night I was headed to the hospital, and Sean was born the next day. Finally, I will never forget watching my daughter perform the lead role of Scheherazade in The Arabian Nights for the Upper School One-Act Play. For so many years, I have participated in performances with my students. It was great to finally be an audience member and watch my child perform.

Chris Rydel and Olivia Jones '17

Mrs. Rydel was a crucial part of my decision to major in music. She helped me become a better musician and steered me toward ensembles that were incredibly beneficial to my musicianship. Without her help, I probably wouldn’t be where I am.

—Olivia Jones ’17, Indiana University, Jacobs School of Music

What’s on your playlist?

I love symphonic music—from Leonard Bernstein to Mahler to Shostakovich. I also really like John Williams’ film scores, Aerosmith, Queen, and The Beatles, to name a few. When I need a pick me up, my go-to is Gloria Estefan’s Mi Tierra album.

Mrs. Rydel helped me understand the work ethic and dedication it takes to have success. At every step, she made sure to acknowledge my progress but also kept me looking toward my long-term goals. In this way,  she inspired in me a balance between humility and self-confidence. She is, to this day, the only mentor I’ve had that has been able to create such a delicate balance.

—Trent Steelman ’16, Northwestern University