Carly Grandner ’14, Choir Teacher at Davies High School
Major: Music Education

The choir room at Davies High School in Fargo, North Dakota, is large and well lit, but it is also cozy and inviting. A group of students have gathered in the room to eat their lunches, and their chatter swells warmly around the room. There’s the easy sense of community and belonging that choirs often foster.

Of course, it helps that their choir teacher, Carly Grandner ’14, seems genuinely thrilled to see all of them.

Her adjoining office door is covered with photos of her and her students, and there are signs in the window that read “all are welcome here” and “love grows best in choir.”

“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” Grandner said. “I come from a family of teachers. I had six grandparents in total, three sets, and four of them were teachers. I’ve always loved schools. I think I’m just an academic at heart.”

It’s clear that Grandner’s dreams of being a teacher set her on the right path. As lunch wraps up and rehearsal begins, Grandner is a natural leader as she stands in front of her class.

The first song on the rehearsal list is “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent.” The song is, as Grandner says, “nearly concert ready,” but there are a few more things to iron out. The tenors and basses need a bit more energy, and the sopranos need to work on nailing one of their more challenging harmonies. But working on the song doesn’t seem like a chore — Grandner’s criticism is swift and constructive — and her students are eager to listen.

Grandner didn’t always want to be a music teacher, however. Throughout high school, she was deciding between teaching music or math.

“It was my high school choir director who pulled me into his office, sat me down, and said to me, ‘You should do this,’” she said. “That was, I think, the final thing I needed to hear to put me in this direction.”

Eventually, her next steps led her to Concordia, where she studied for a Bachelor of Music degree in vocal music education. Grandner notes the importance of the learning she did inside the classroom at Concordia, but she also says what she learned outside the classroom was just as important.

Concordia is a place full of passionate and enthusiastic, wonderful educators.”

“Concordia is a place full of passionate and enthusiastic, wonderful educators, and some of the best things I learned were just by building relationships with my professors or being in activities or organizations,” she said. “There’s a lot about education that you can’t learn from a textbook.”

Some of Grandner’s best memories at Concordia happened while on tour with The Concordia Choir. There was a performance at a Texas cathedral that moved her to tears. And, there was the open-air church on their Pacific Northwest/Hawai’i tour that provided them with a view of jumping whales while they sang.

Of course, there was time for fun too — Grandner had fun avoiding walking under the campus bell tower alone. (As legend goes, walking under the bell tower with a beloved partner or friend means you’ll be in each other’s lives forever. Walk under it solo, however, and you’ll be alone for the rest of your life.) She also reflects fondly on jumping in Prexy’s Pond after graduation. However, that experience was maybe more potent than productive.

There’s a connecting theme in Grandner’s reflections on Concordia — community and relationships — and she has brought that appreciation of community into her work. The enthusiasm with which Grandner interacts with her students and the music they make is hard to fake, and the enthusiasm her students have for the music they’re making is hard to fake too.

“Making art and making something beautiful every day, specifically in my teaching career, is wonderful,” Grandner said. “The fact that I get to make beautiful music every single day is an amazing part of teaching. I think just knowing what I do matters is what matters to me.”

Since graduating from Concordia, Grandner has shared the beauty of music with many students of different ages. She taught in Hawley, Minnesota, before heading to Davies. She conducts the Diamond Choir as part of the Fargo Moorhead Youth Choir organization. She’s also taught at the International Music Camp as well as working with a variety of honor and festival choirs.

At the end of the day, Grandner hopes that when her students walk out of her classroom door their love and appreciation of music continues to grow.

“I want my students to have a lifelong love of music,” Grandner said. “I understand that not all of them are going to continue on in music as a career, and some of them might not continue on even as a hobby. But I do hope they consume music in their life and that it can still be something that is helpful and beautiful and lovely for them.”

As for her future in the field, Grandner has no desire to do anything else.

“Teaching is a noble and wonderful profession, and I think that there is a narrative out there right now that teaching is a little bit scary and there’s a group of people who are leaving the field,” Grandner said. “But I just want to assure people who are passionate about this that there are still wonderful places to teach and wonderful experiences out there. I love my job. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in the 2024 Concordia Magazine.