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Friday September 18, 2020

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Meet Amber Williamson
December 6, 2019

Amber Williamson is living the dream.

She was driving through the Smokies a few years ago feeling that it was time for a change. Less than a year later, she was living just minutes from the national park and doing what she had always wanted to do: teaching music to college students.
“As far back as the third grade, music has been my focus. I remember begging my dad to get flute lessons. I just always assumed I would teach music,” remembers Williamson, assistant professor of music on the Sevier County Campus.
She was born and raised in Illinois and earned a bachelor’s degree in flute performance and a master’s degree in music history from Southern Illinois University. She credits her love of music to her dad.
“My dad was a trumpet player and he played in U.S. Navy bands. He was later a CPA but kept playing. We had instruments around the house and we made music.”
Her dad unknowingly prepared her for musical style she never anticipated teaching – a cappella performance.
“I was happy to see a cappella become so popular with students. One of the very first concerts I attended was The Nylons, an a cappella quartet from the 80s My dad took me and I loved a cappella music from that night forward.” 
After the group Pentatonix exploded on the pop music scene, she was pleased when students approached her about forming an a cappella choir. 
“Being able to perform a cappella is a great skill for students to have when they leave college. Like other forms of music, some students have this ability naturally. For those who don’t, it can be difficult to teach. Students really have to listen and rely on each other in this form,” Williamson said. 
Williamson loves her job because of the many ways it changes from semester to semester. 
“I direct the choirs and teach ‘Intro to Music’ and piano. I also direct musicals in a new collaboration with Creative Theater. I enjoy teaching and I continue to grow learn both as a teacher and as a musician.”
The partnership with Creative Theater in Pigeon Forge has opened new doors for the music program in Sevier County. 
“With our space, we were limited to cabaret-style shows. Now, we can do full-length Broadway shows. In the fall production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” we were able to give our music industry majors real experience in all of the behind-the-scenes activities that are required for a big show.
“The partnership also benefits our musical theatre majors. Previously, they would have had to drive to Morristown for many theatre classes and to be part of productions,” Williamson said.
Unlike other subjects, most assume students would need some natural skill to sing well enough to be part of a college musical production or musical group. Williamson thinks that may be true, but quickly adds that she’s never had a student who wasn’t teachable.
“I have had students that can sing right on pitch for five or six notes before losing it. In those situations, we can work to extend those pitch ranges. It requires patience for the student and the teacher, but almost anyone can learn.”
Most students fall on the other range of talent possession; they are oozing with singing, dancing and acting ability. In the five years Williamson has taught at Walters State, fifteen of her students have been part of productions at Dollywood, the Comedy Barn and Dolly’s Dixie Stampede. Music industry majors have also worked in many of Sevier County’s entertainment venues.   
“I tell students, if this is what you really want, you have to put everything in it and go for it. There are jobs in music, theatre and dance. Learn every skill you can and be willing to put everything into your career.”
So, what music does the music teacher turn to when wanting to relax?
“I love musicals and movie music. I once did an orchestra tour where all we did was John Williams music and I loved it. My favorite musical is ‘Sweeney Todd.’ I have never seen the movie because I love the theatre version so much!”