By: Kristin Conrad
Chiyo Trauernicht, a native of Chiba, Japan, is currently the Instrumental Music Teacher at Omaha Central High School. She’s held this position since 2021, and she teaches Concert Band, Marching Band, Jazz Band, Orchestra, Guitar, and Piano classes. Prior to her appointment at CHS, Trauernicht was band director at Otte-Blair Middle School for 14 years. The story of how she decided to pursue a career in music is filled with many interesting twists and turns.
While growing up in Japan, it was clear to those around her that Trauernicht was a natural leader who had a love of teaching. She also cultivated a love of music, taking piano lessons and playing flute in middle school.
“Ever since I was a preschooler, I wanted to be a teacher, and my mom said that on parent observation days, I would just follow teachers around the class,” Trauernicht said. “My aunt is an art teacher and that was always an inspiration.”
Trauernicht pursued collegiate studies to become a high school English teacher, hoping she might find a job at a high school with a strong band program. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. It was also right around this time that Trauernicht suffered from a herniated disc, which became a key moment in her music career. While recovering from this injury, she started to ask herself what it was she really wanted to do.
“I really wanted to come back to the United States, and so I looked for a way to somehow do this for a year before I became an English teacher,” Trauernicht said. “It had been a while since I was in a native English-speaking country, and before I became a high school English teacher I really wanted to be confident up front of the classroom speaking English.”
Trauernicht found an organization in Japan that sent Japanese people to English-speaking countries to volunteer in social welfare organizations. This program led Trauernicht to Beatrice, Nebraska to work in the Beatrice State Developmental Center, a 24-hour residential facility for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She was a paraeducator for special education classrooms for a year, but due to her music background, she was also asked to help a music therapist on site.
“That experience, really it changed my life and also my view of what music can do for people,” Trauernicht said. “Music therapy sessions – I can literally see at the beginning of the session this student coming in and his heart rate is like 180, running around, banging on the walls. And then after half an hour music session, he’s calmed down. Residents who were sometimes nonverbal would hum to the music. All of that observation and interaction made me feel like I cannot be satisfied with music being just my hobby.”
At 22 years old, Trauernicht decided she wanted music to be her career. She finished her degree program in Japan and then moved to Nebraska, where she completed the music teaching certification program at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. She also earned a Master of Music degree in Instrumental Conducting from the American Band College of Sam Houston State University.
Today, Trauernicht’s teaching philosophy is grounded in those early experiences at Beatrice.
“My philosophy in band is also the same as adaptive music. I want to equip students with the tools, skills, and experiences that will help them enjoy music for the rest of their lives.”
As an immigrant and a woman of color, Trauernicht recognizes her important role when it comes to guiding the next generation of female music educators.
“Find your journey, find your story, find what works for you,” Trauernicht said. “Follow your gut feeling and choose the path so that you will be responsible for your own happiness.”
Trauernicht works hard in her classroom to ensure students can pursue their goals, free of stereotypes.
“Sometimes there is like a stereotype of what instrument you can play. Throw that out the window and think outside the box. If you’re the first tuba player in your school as a girl, do it. Just be aware and think ‘am I not doing something because I’ve never seen anybody do it? Or because somebody said girls should not be doing it?’ Always be aware and just follow your heart.”