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The Student News Site of Clayton High School.

The Globe

The Student News Site of Clayton High School.

The Globe

The Double-bar Line of Her Career

Reminiscing on the growth of a program for renowned band director Jennifer Shenberger
Kristi Foster
Baton raised, Jennifer Shenberger looks into the crowd of her middle school symphonic band, awaiting the down-beat of one of their pieces.

For many sixth graders, the idea of trying out an instrument for the first time stirs up a mix of excitement and nervousness. But in the lively atmosphere of the band room, one person stands out to everyone, regardless of their skill level or amount of interest in the class. Even before they enter her classroom, students have already heard about Jennifer Shenberger’s impact.
According to numerous former students, Shenberger has earned a reputation as one of the most esteemed educators in the district over her 17-year tenure with the Clayton School District.
However, in her years as an educator, Shenberger has demonstrated a willingness to speak up when necessary, setting high standards for her students.
“Tough love is often associated with me,” Shenberger said. “But I have high expectations, and I will never apologize.”
She serves as the district’s Brass Specialist, Brass Choir Director, Jazz Band Director, Pit Orchestra Conductor, Wydown Middle School (WMS) Wind Ensemble Co-Conductor, WMS seventh and eighth grade Brass Instructor, WMS Cadet Band Lead Teacher and the sixth grade Horn and Low Brass Instructor.
As a teacher with multiple roles, Shenberger has witnessed her students transform from wide-eyed beginners to accomplished graduates throughout their seven-year journey.

Jennifer Shenberger and Pat Sheridan co-conduct the high school symphonic band in her early years as a band director at the high school. (Jennifer Shenberger)

The Early Years

While Shenberger is a known name throughout Clayton, her journey in education did not begin in St. Louis. She moved to St. Louis after getting her job at Clayton in 2007.
Shenberger grew up in Southern Missouri in a musically inclined family and spent the first 14 years of her teaching career in a school close to her home.
“Once I started [to play music] in kindergarten, I just kept going. And teaching is just an extension of that. I think I’m still learning,” Schenberger said.
In second grade, she began piano lessons. As the youngest of three siblings and the daughter of musical parents, she watched her family play instruments throughout childhood. Having a 10-year age gap between her brother and sister meant that she got to watch her siblings in marching and symphonic bands, so her aspiration to join the band started from a young age.
“I remember going to parades and hearing the marching band from the distance, and I wanted to start playing immediately,” she said.

Jennifer Shenberger and her older brother play with her family’s record player. As a child, she found inspiration from her older, musical siblings. (Jennifer Shenberger )

Shenberger joined the school band in fifth grade. While most Clayton students know her as a french horn specialist, she started on the trumpet.
“I did pretty good but then got braces. It was the worst thing ever,” she said. “I had to start relearning how to play, which was devastating. I was discouraged. I almost quit the band after eighth grade.”
However, despite her setbacks with her braces, she had a supportive band teacher who cared about her and saw beyond the physical restrictions.
“[My teacher] also happened to be my piano teacher, and [she] is a big reason as to why I’m here,” she said. “Because I watched her: her passion, dedication to her students and craft.”
Shenberger eventually switched to the french horn because her school needed a player. She picked up the instrument, as she had an extra one in her house belonging to her mother, and dedicated her time to it.
“I ended up getting a scholarship [for] college on not only french horn but piano, french horn and voice scholarships,” she said. “It was all a natural path for me.”
Despite Shenberger’s historical love for music, she was not always set on conducting as her path in life; in fact, she had a niche for the sciences.
“In high school, I loved science. I was very good at biology, had some success in science clubs at school and was very interested in forensic science. I thought I had a path there,” she said. “Something happened my freshman year in high school, where something clicked.”

That “click” for her was her high school music program. Her school’s band and choir wing halls were her safe space, and the practice rooms became her home. Music was what she wanted to be surrounded with every day.
“If I could have taken band and choir every hour of every day of school, I would have just stayed there,” Shenberger said. “So, from that point, I never looked back. I just wanted to keep being a music student my whole life. So here I am.”

If I could have taken band and choir every hour of every day of school, I would have just stayed there. I just wanted to keep being a music student my whole life. So here I am.”

— Jennifer Shenberger

Teaching Experience and Philosophy
Before Shenbergers’ arrival, the band program at Clayton was known to many as “the best-kept secret in the state.”
“There’s always been a great music program here, but I think it was hidden for a long time,” Shenberger said.
Prior to Shenberger’s infiltration of the music programs, the brass choir was a nonexistent part of Clayton’s music festival. Large group ensembles and success at state-sanctioned events and music competitions have thrived since her conducting.
She describes herself primarily as a guide or coach rather than a teacher.
“I’ve always been a band kid, so I’ve never thought about teaching as an actual job because I’ve always been a student,” she said.
Teaching what’s on the sheet music for a band of woodwinds, brass players and percussionists is not the central purpose of the band for Shenberger.
“It’s not just teaching for me,” she said. “Music is about teaching life skills and [navigating] this difficult thing called life that throws lots of struggles and challenges. It’s a lifelong learning skill and lifestyle.”

It’s not just teaching for me,” she said. “Music is about teaching life skills and [navigating] this difficult thing called life that throws lots of struggles and challenges. It’s a lifelong learning skill and lifestyle.”

— Jennifer Shenberger

While teaching at Clayton, known for its academically rigorous and competitive environment, Shenberger noted that most young students are the hardest on themselves and find themselves overwhelmed by the aspects of high school.
“We all tend to be very critical of ourselves, and I think helping other people see where they have things to offer [is important],” she said.
Shenberger highlighted instances where students’ attention is often divided, struggling to zero in on the tasks. This pattern of distraction not only impacts individual performance but also has ripple effects throughout the educational ecosystem.
“The kids are stressed. Keeping that all in perspective, keeping the quality of the program up while allowing kids to enjoy making music and not feeling pressure to de-stress is a fine line,” Shenberger said. “It’s always been tricky to navigate.”
Shenberger notes the difficulty in balancing high school with the band on top of challenging classes, sports and extracurriculars.
“When you’ve got tasks to complete and music that takes hours and hours of repetition to master and perfect, soccer games, Speech and Debate tournaments and all these other things that life throws at you, it’s easy to get stretched too thin,” she said.
Shenberger’s tenure at the high school has been marked by a dedication to the band program, which has provided a supportive community for students navigating the pressures and challenges of the academic environment.
From annually playing “Pomp and Circumstance” at graduation to working through clinics and festival pieces, her busy years were filled with memorable experiences.
Shenberger considers the 2017 Wind Ensemble’s performance at the MMEA band festival to be a highlight of her conducting career.
“The kids nailed it. I remember lifting the baton for the downbeat at that moment, not knowing what was going to come out, and the minute I gave the downbeat and heard them play the first note, it was just a ride of pure joy for the next 25 minutes,” she said. “It was a fantastic sound, and those were middle school kids.”
Shenberger has found the pit orchestra’s involvement in the high school’s musicals and productions to be a particularly memorable aspect of her efforts.
“Pit orchestra has become a cool tradition here, and I’m proud of that. I’m glad that people want to be a part of it. It’s a lot of work,” Shenberger said. “And I tried to make it digestible because it is a monumental task. It may not always be puppies and roses, but together, we’ll get there,” she said.

It may not always be puppies and roses, but together, we’ll get there.”

— Jennifer Shenberger

The Student Side
For junior Ally Ord, Shenberger changed her life when she taught her and the other french horn players how to play their instrument with passion and discipline.
“I picked up on the fact that she was strict, and she had a way of doing things,” Ord said. “As a little sixth grader, I was a little scared, but I also respected her for that.”
Before Ord’s dedication throughout her high school career, she was not as determined as she is now.
“Without her, I probably wouldn’t be in band and would have quit in seventh grade, but I wanted to be good for Shenberger and find success,” Ord said. “She was the driver behind that.”
Shenberger’s influence in middle school was pivotal, motivating Ord to deepen her involvement in the high school band program.
“She has been here longer than everyone else. Looking back, she gave off this serious persona, but I’ve gotten to know her, and she is one of the kindest human beings I’ve ever met,” Ord said.
Ord was determined to be a good musician in high school, so she started taking lessons and became involved in as many extracurricular band activities as possible. She joined the pit orchestra and became one of the Co-Directors of the pit for the Student Run Musical in the Spring alongside senior Shrey Vedantham.
Ord, who started as a sixth grader in the cadet band at WMS, has had Shenberger as a director and mentor for six years. After working with Shenberger for many years, ord appreciates her guidance and the growth she has helped her find.
“Going on seven years is a long time. That’s a big part of my life and a huge part of my education where she knows me, and I know her as a person,” she said. “That’s a bond you just can’t get rid of.”
Ord’s experience with Shenberger over the years reveals a teaching style that is rigorous yet rewarding. The structured discipline that Shenberger applies in her instruction sharpens students’ technical skills and instills professionalism that sets the stage for their future success as seasoned musicians.
“If you see all the people who follow through, they’re amazing because they’ve had that structure and respect for her,” she said.
Beyond the discipline in musicianship, Ord elaborated that Shenberger’s strictness serves a dual purpose, equipping students with musical acumen and essential life skills that foster character development.
“I learned a bunch of life skills from working with her, like how to be on time or follow instructions,” Ord said. “She’s truly made me the musician I am. No way any other teacher [could] have made me go from [the] last chair in middle school to now conducting the pit orchestra. I don’t think anyone else could have done that.”
In addition to Shenberger’s teaching style, students noted that her conducting style is a prominent factor in the success of the fine arts program. Yet, in the end, it is more about the places where Shenberger will take the music.
“It’s how she interprets [the] music,” Ord said. “Every year, she’s like, ‘Get out your pencil because we are going to make so many changes.’ I also know that she could pick a terrible song, and we could still get the [highest] rating at [a] festival just because of how she interprets the music.”


Despite the obstacles that Covid-19 presented, Jennifer Shenberger continued to put in her full effort to conducting her bands, even if it was over zoom calls. (Jennifer Shenberger )

Although Ord grapples with the bittersweet emotions surrounding Shenberger’s departure, she remains optimistic about the band program’s future.
“I want her to be proud of me, and I want her to be proud of herself because she’s responsible for everyone’s success,” Ord said. “She is the program.”

I want her to be proud of me, and I want her to be proud of herself because she’s responsible for everyone’s success. She is the program.”

— Ally Ord

Like Ord’s first impression of Shenberger, Vedantham said that despite the band staff’s intimidation, “they produce good results.”
Although Ord grapples with the bittersweet emotions surrounding Shenberger’s departure, she remains optimistic about the band program’s future.
“I was already interested in percussion, but once I saw how motivated the teachers were, they made me a better player, especially Ms. Shenberger,” Vedantham said.
While participating in the middle school honors band, the Wind Ensemble, Vedantham discovered musical abilities and talents he had not known were possible before Shenberger guided him.
“I didn’t know I could play stuff like that until she motivated me to get better and play louder,” Vedantham said.
From middle school concert band to high school Symphonic Band, Vedantham has immersed himself in music and created a deeper connection with the other band students.
Over his seven-year tenure in the music program, Vedantham has witnessed Shenberger’s commitment to her students. Her comprehensive approach to teaching has left a unique mark on each participant, helping them hone their skills and passion for music.
“She puts a lot of energy into her work and cares about the result,” Vedantham said. “Almost every great [musical] program we have here, she had some part [in] developing or choosing who runs it. We would not be on the level we are without her.”
In addition to building the band program into its current state, Shenberger has taught students copious life lessons, from discipline to creativity.
“She’s taught me that you need to treat [music] seriously,” Vedantham said. “Everything she does is for a purpose. And she’s taught us that we’re not just one small part; we’re a big part of the band.”

A Lasting Legacy
Shenberger has taught hundreds of students, and her dedication to teaching has significantly contributed to a sense of community within the school. Several students have cited her approach as a key factor in their personal and musical development.
“Whether it’s a student that’s struggling or a student that’s had success, we’ve all got things that keep us from going to the next level,” Shenberger said. “I think we need to help each other out with that. We’re not perfect; we’re not meant to be perfect, but you want to keep improving.”
Despite retiring, Shenberger still holds her passion for music close to her. Her career began as a manifestation of this passion, and she emphasizes that one’s passion, excitement and ambition also drive people to meet or exceed their anticipated potential.
“Make sure you live your truth and are happy with what you’re doing,” she said.
Shenberger has noticed a pattern among students throughout her years of teaching: even those who start with a fiery passion for their activities can find themselves struggling with fatigue. Shenberger observes that this exhaustion can potentially cloud their initial love for the activity, challenging students to reevaluate their commitments.
“Sometimes, when we’re in it, we can’t see beyond the wall in front of us and get over the hurdle. Just having the energy to put yourself out there and try to break through that barrier, whatever it is. Whether it’s your self-doubt or an outside obstacle, [it] will enable you to be true to yourself and live your passion. I can’t say that enough,” Shenberger said. “You’ve got to do what makes you happy. And seek out the people that are going to help you get there.”
Schenberger views herself as a person who helps students get there. She is a proud witness to this overcoming of obstacles and growth and has witnessed firsthand the impact that she has made on former students.
“Often, I’ll get emails and texts from kids in their 20s and 30s, and they’re like, ‘Oh, my goodness, thank you. I understand now.’ Growing up, you need somebody to push you a little,” she said.
She acknowledges that her message and views are easier said than done; it’s not always an easy path, but she believes it’s worth taking.
“That love and willingness to do [band] will continue to grow long after I leave, and everybody that’s here [is] all going to go on to something else and find their success,” Shenberger said.
As Shenberger’s tenure at the school ends, students like Ord are reaching the end of their time under her instruction. The sense of loss many feel is palpable as they reflect on their experiences and the impending change in leadership.
“Legacy is very important to me, especially in a band program. It’s so sad that there will be incoming sixth graders who will never know who she is,” Ord said.
“I want to make sure that what she has worked so hard to do will stay here as a program that’s been consistently being built for almost two decades. I’m going to make sure that everything she has done will stay alive, at least at the high school.”
As Vedantham approached graduation, he experienced a moment during rehearsals that he regarded as a testament to Shenberger’s emotional investment in the music program.
“She puts a lot of emotion into conducting. For example, this year, for her last year, she wanted to do one last song with us,” Vedantham said. “She chose the last song her dad ever heard her play before he died. Shenberger gave Ally the horn part, which Shenberger would have been playing.”

She puts a lot of emotion into conducting. For example, this year, for her last year, she wanted to do one last song with us. She chose the last song her dad ever heard her play before he died. Shenberger gave Ally the horn part, which Shenberger would have been playing.”

— Shrey Vendantham

In recognition of Shenberger’s careful selection of musical pieces throughout her tenure, the students prepared a parting gift that reflects their appreciation for her influence.
“We’re secretly putting together songs every day Ms. Shenberger is out sick or not here. The song we’re going [to play] is called ‘A Parting Blessing,’ and different sections sing at different times. It’s a nice tribute for her, especially with her choir career,” Vedantham said.
As Shenberger prepares to conclude her tenure at the Clayton School District, her legacy is evident in the band program’s accolades and the testimonials of students past and present. The program’s growth under her guidance is marked by successful performances and the personal growth of students who have been part of it. While her students will miss her greatly, she has reached the double bar line of her career and can put her baton down to rest.
“Her legacy is every single graduate that gets to leave this school calling themselves a musician,” Ord said. “It’ll be impossible to forget her.”

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