Student Returns to Alma Mater to Teach Music
Not many people come full circle as quickly as Luben Daniel ’12. Setting out for Ithaca College, he left his home in the U.S. Virgin Islands a talented and determined student of music. Just four years later, he was back as a teacher.
“Returning home in this new role has been humbling,” Daniel says. “I just left St. Thomas for Ithaca not too long ago. To be back and teaching in the same rooms I was once seated in as a student is surreal.”
Daniel is the band director at Charlotte Amalie High School (CAHS)—the most populous high school in the Virgin Islands and his alma mater. As a student here, Daniel was a first chair and section leader in the school band. A clarinetist, he also took up steelpan, also known as steel drums, or steel band—a unique style of music based heavily on percussion.
“Steel band is our thing,” Daniel says. “It represents all things Caribbean.”
Realizing his calling
CAHS was also where Daniel realized he wanted to teach music rather than just perform.
“As a 10th-grader in high school, I decided to study music education because I felt like I had found my purpose in life within this field,” Daniel says. “All I wish to do with my skills and knowledge is to give back to my community and the generations after me just as those before have done for me.”
Not everyone was thrilled with the decision—some people close to Daniel believed that with his talent, he could be more successful playing in world-class orchestras. But Daniel remained steadfast, deriving his motivation from the influence of his own teachers.
“If it weren’t for my exposure and involvement in a school music program, I would not be experiencing the level of fulfillment in life that I have now,” Daniel says. “I owe it all to music and want nothing more than to provide that experience to others.”
From the Islands to IC and Back
Daniel made the 1,600-mile journey to IC to study music education. In the middle of his senior year, he received an unexpected opportunity: a teacher from CAHS called to inform him that the school’s band director was retiring. Soon after that, Daniel was offered the position by the principal. Daniel had been meaning to pursue a teaching position back home in the Virgin Islands, but he was not scheduled to graduate in time to accept this offer. So he decided to change that. With the help of the music faculty at IC, Daniel graduated in time to take the position and has been teaching at CAHS ever since. With a full year on the faculty under his belt, he has learned that the job is not without its obstacles.
“The major challenge is infrastructure,” Daniel says. “The condition of the equipment—especially the instruments— is subpar. Storage space for items is insufficient. Having the adequate funding to deal with maintenance, or even to purchase new instruments and music, is apparently a rare thing for the music department outside of the support of our booster organization.”
Even so, Daniel feels he’s adjusted well to his new role at CAHS. He credits the student teaching experience he accumulated both at summer music camp in St. Thomas and in student teaching courses and experiences at IC with preparing him to improve the music program at CAHS. Today, he could not be more certain about what he wants for the future.
“I hope that 20 years from now, I’ll still be teaching here in the Virgin Islands at Charlotte Amalie High School,” he says. “Honestly, I believe that teaching music is what I am on this planet to do.”