Dovaldė Ulčinaitė
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Music Teacher Dovaldė Ulčinaitė: Creative music teaching helps children overcome inner barriers and find freedom

We met with Dovaldė Ulčinaitė, the music teacher at Erudito Licėjus, to talk about music lessons and her unique method that helps children’s creativity flourish. “Creativity is probably in my blood,” smiles Dovaldė. But the conversation inevitably turned to the psychological aspect of music and even a kind of music philosophy – the interviewee is convinced that music helps solve many problems.

D. Ulčinaitė graduated in performance art – jazz vocals from VDU Music Academy and composition from the NGO “Jazz Academy.” Dovaldė works as a vocal, piano, and music teacher and this year formed and leads a choir club at Erudito Licėjus. She has participated in several popular music TV shows and is a backing vocalist for singer Martynas Kavaliauskas. This experience, stage courage, and communication skills gained from performing help her both at work and in everyday life. “I don’t pretend to be something I’m not, I don’t fake it, and I always say what I think, without sugarcoating,” Dovaldė believes that her straightforward character is more of an asset than a hindrance. Not just in daily situations but also in the comprehensive development of students. “Children feel when you are sincere. And I never lie. That’s why I get along very well with my students – we have our rules, agreements, and respect each other. Often, a music lesson starts with children sharing their feelings and experiences.” Teaching children of various ages, Dovaldė draws daily positivity from them and shares it with those around her – wherever she appears, there is loud and sincere laughter.

How did a jazz vocalist end up at Erudito Licėjus almost three years ago?

I have a wonderful family and a wonderful brother who lives in Vilnius with his family. Once, they told me, “Move to Vilnius too.” At first, I resisted, but eventually, I thought, why not. After spending seven years in Kaunas, I was curious to try something new and take on an adventure. I had neither a resume nor a cover letter, so my brother’s wife helped me create them, and I started sending letters to private schools. The interview with the then-head of Erudito Licėjus’ Vilnius branch, Ieva Daugėlė, was fateful because I realized I wanted to work here, so two weeks later, I was already living in Vilnius.

How and when did you realize you wanted to become a teacher?

I remember saying that I would never work as a teacher (laughs). I was studying jazz vocals in Kaunas when I got a call from a private studio offering me a teaching job. I decided to try it – I spent more than two years there. I really liked the job because we approached music as therapy – people came not necessarily to learn sophisticated ways of singing but to share and solve their troubles. Interestingly, a person can start singing only when they feel calm inside and trust the teacher. My students ranged in age from 5 to 50 years. Sometimes I would come home and stare at one point for an hour – the experiences and secrets entrusted to me, especially by teenagers, were that intense.

No one doubts the therapeutic effect of music: singing out sadness and pain makes it easier. It’s no wonder that people sang in camps and concentration camps, and the Lithuanian song always accompanied various works…

I really feel that music heals. When I feel that the flow of thoughts is becoming unmanageable and my emotional state needs revision, I sit at the piano at home, put on headphones, and play whatever is on my mind until I clear and calm down. So, music definitely has a therapeutic effect.

Could it be that music lessons do not stress children for this reason – they come to relax, release accumulated fatigue, tensions, and feelings?

Sometimes I see that children are tired and tense, so I change the lesson plan – we take instruments and play what we feel at that moment. I am flexible and try to notice how children feel in lessons, what we can do that day, and what tasks to perform. So, indeed, children come to music lessons to relax, and I strive to help them understand and know themselves better through music, to free themselves, overcome inner barriers, and conquer their fears.

Everyone at school talks about the uniqueness of your lessons and your special method that allows every child to feel like a composer. Tell us more about it.

I like to discover something new; I don’t like to repeat myself. And I want to let children create. For example, with third-graders, we were looking for suitable songs for the upcoming Father’s Day, but nothing appealed, so we decided that the children would create them themselves, individually, in pairs, in groups – however they wanted. They came up with all sorts of creations – they composed rap, made rhymes, and the result was excellent; it will be a wonderful greeting for dads! So, I let children become creators. I personally love creating, I enjoy it, and it has to be interesting for me.

Creativity seems to be in my blood. During lessons, I use the “MuseScore” program, which turns children’s emotions and moods into notes and musical sounds – they find it very interesting to hear what music their experiences become. In my lessons, children draw music. For example, I play a melody and ask them to draw what they hear in it. With first and second graders, we do creative tasks from a great book, “How Music Comes About?” With preschoolers, we were already writing music in lined notebooks. At first, it seems scary and difficult, but that’s how we start to free ourselves; they write a title, describe the mood of their piece, and then I turn their stories into notes and play their creation. They feel like real composers! Music and various exercises help develop patience and listening skills – I come up with all sorts of tasks. There is a lot of creativity in the lessons. We pay a lot of attention to integrated learning. Music and math integration, music and English, music and art (counting and coloring note values), and so on, are very interesting. During lessons, we color, cross out words, get to know musical instruments, etc.

Some people are like magnets, attracting everyone. You seem to be such a person: children cling to you!

I manage to find a way to communicate with children. Maybe it’s a gift? I don’t want and don’t know how to be a strict teacher because you can’t achieve anything with strictness; the only way is to build a connection. Children open up to me, willingly share their troubles and worries. I consider it a great gift. Singing is called body and soul therapy: it positively affects the respiratory system, helps develop and improve social skills, relaxes from stress, and “produces” happiness hormones, making us feel happier.

What does singing mean to you?

Singing has been with me since I was three and a half. My parents took me to various clubs, so I have been singing since early childhood. Singing has always been in the first place for me. It used to be a form of self-expression, an attempt to find myself. Now, music and singing are the easiest ways for me to relax and release thoughts, experiences, and feelings from the day.

Can everyone sing?

I think so, if they really want to. Singing is like a sport; you have to train. The voice is a muscle that needs constant training. Besides breathing, trust in the teacher is also important. Until you feel free with the teacher, you cannot sing; the voice and singing will be constrained. Once you relax, the voice sounds different, you pronounce sounds differently, and the music sounds different.

There is increasing scientific research proving that singing, especially in a group, is a great way to train the brain. Choral singing positively affects cognitive abilities and especially contributes to improving language skills, strengthening the sense of community. How did you come up with the idea that Erudito Licėjus needed a choir?

Parents often asked me about a music group for primary school students, so we should really thank them for the creation of this club (laughs). Children come to the sessions as therapy – in ten minutes, all twelve share what happened to them, how they feel, and then we can sing. I come up with various exercises for them so that they are not afraid to be free and relaxed. At first, it’s timid and difficult, but now they ask me, “Will we do that exercise?” We practice by singing the Erudito Licėjus’ anthem and are already preparing for the upcoming September 1st performance, which the children are very much looking forward to.

What are the main criteria for selecting singers?

Probably the most important is the child’s desire, that they want to sing themselves. So far, the group is very motivated and really wants to attend the sessions. I let them move, dance, but I tell them that I want to hear them sing too. We have our rules and agreements.

You have a strong and straightforward personality. How much do you think music has contributed to the formation of your character?

I think music has partly shaped this character. During my studies, I became stronger because there was no other choice – it’s tough for musicians; stage art either breaks you or forms a strong backbone. So, you either break or stand firm; there is no other way. You have to become resilient. That’s what I became (laughs).

What else, besides music, helps you relax?

I love being in nature, walking a lot. As strange as it sounds, being a vocalist, I listen to very little vocal music – only instrumental. I enjoy being with my goddaughter, who is two years old and whom I love very much. I like creating music; music relaxes me. I need my music. So, nature, my goddaughter, books, and music are the things that help me recover and recharge.