Jackpot! Ciara McDaniel makes magic with her music


Photo by Mona Mirpour

Senior music education major Ciara McDaniel got her first taste of music education in high school. She started playing flute in her middle school band, and by the end of high school, she was drum major of the marching band.

“Seeing other students go through moments where they didn’t understand something and then they did because I helped them understand it made me feel very good,” McDaniel said. “Especially because I resonated with them knowing I was in their shoes once learning how to march, and it’s really hard. I got to watch them go through that process, and I really liked it, so I came here starting as music ed.”

Since her sophomore year at Trinity, McDaniel has been taking music with her across the street to Sunshine Cottage for the Deaf. When she took Learners with Exceptionalities, taught by associate professor of education Heather Haynes Smith, McDaniel had to pick a place to volunteer where she could interact with kids with disabilities.

“I chose Sunshine Cottage just because it’s close, and I don’t have a car,” McDaniel said. “But I ended up falling in love with it and have volunteered there ever since. I took that class as a sophomore [two] years ago, and I’ve been coming back just by choice.”

Volunteering every Monday as a classroom aide, McDaniel helps around the classroom as well as dealing with disciplinary issues. She also volunteers with what she calls “music petting zoos” where Trinity students come over with instruments to introduce different types of music to the Sunshine Cottage students.

“They come in and they get to hear all of these instruments and touch them and play them,” McDaniel said. “That’s just really impactful for me for them to hear this essence of sound that they maybe couldn’t before.”

With a mother who plays piano and a father who plays classical guitar, McDaniel grew up in a musical household. She started playing piano when she was nine years old after having heard it all the time at home.

“I play flute in the orchestra at Trinity right now,” McDaniel said. “I’ve just always loved music because it’s a good creative outlet for when I’m feeling good or when I’m feeling bad, to just put my feelings into something and create something good that comes out.”

Being able to introduce music to deaf children has changed what McDaniel wants to do with her life. In her ideal future, she will be teaching music at a deaf school like Sunshine Cottage where the kids have hearing aids or cochlear implants.

“It wasn’t always there for them,” McDaniel said. “A lot of them just knew silence, and now, they’re just getting acclimated to a world with sound, and everything is very overwhelming. There are all sorts of sounds coming at them all at once, and they have to distinguish what kind of sounds are what and what makes music, music.”

While she is excited for this future of music education, McDaniel said she still wonders whether she’s the right person to do the job.

“I know that I’m qualified, but I feel like I’m not qualified because I’ve never been deaf,” McDaniel said. “I’ve never had that experience, so it’s hard to fully relate to those students if I’ve never had that experience. It would be weird to think that I would be that person doing that role, but I would really love to and help them as much as I can. I just feel like it’s big shoes to fill.”

During her last semesters at Trinity, McDaniel is trying to soak up every last bit of playing in an ensemble. “It just feels part of my normal life to go be in an ensemble and play with other people, make music with other people and work as a team,” McDaniel said. “At the end of the day, you get to enjoy this music that you’ve worked on for months together and see how it’s grown from the beginning to the end.”