Playing through pain

Tough-as-nails Jazz Band teacher balances a tumultuous career

Eyes closed. Music flowing through her veins as she plays in perfect harmony with her band. It looks as if she is being possessed by the music just waiting to play the next note, as if the drumsticks are an extension of her hands. It’s instinct. Every beat perfectly timed, every moment hanging in the air right before it happens.  

 Through sound she creates a thrilling chase scene in a movie, a 1950s new york mobster club, and a nice calm cafe fill the air as the band members feed off of each other’s energy. 

Monarch’s current jazz band teacher Mrs.Clare Church has been a professional Jazz player throughout her entire teaching career. Dedicating her life to being the best she could be at the saxophone, Mrs. Church was given the opportunity to play with many of the greats.

She played with music legends such as Dizzy Gillespie, Aretha Franklin, and Doc Severinsen, who led the band for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. 

“I played at the Hollywood Bowl with Joe Henderson at the ‘Playboy Jazz Festival,” she said. Playing throughout most of her life, the saxophone was one of the most important things for her. However, she didn’t realize all of that was about to change. 

Seven years ago, Mrs.Church was diagnosed with Dystonia, a neurological disorder that causes a person’s muscles to contract uncontrollably. Dystonia affected her tongue and jaw, putting an end to her booming saxophone career. 

”I was at the absolute peak of my playing, I was a really good player,” Church said. “It was a terrible blow. So, I kind of was just like ‘my life is over.” 

Through all of the devastation she experienced, Mrs. Church powered through it and uncovered a love for another instrument. 

“I had messed around with the drums my whole life and never really got serious with it but i knew i had some affinity for it, I knew I had some talent,” she said.“I started taking lessons immediately the day of the diagnosis, I called the guy and said I got to start taking weekly lessons, just in case.” 

The diagnosis was tough, and while Mrs.Church may have overcome it, she did not do it without struggle and pain. She tried and tried and tried to hold onto the saxophone and gain her skills back but unfortunately, dystonia is incurable.  

“I tried retraining, I went to all kinds of lengths to try to retrain my brain to get my woodland playing back but i couldn’t get it back, ultimately,” she said. 

Through it all, it was her love and passion for teaching that brought her back out of the depths. She continued teaching through her hardship, and continues to influence her students for the better every single day. 

“Mrs. Church is a truly inspiring teacher. So many kids have had her as a teacher, and learned to love music, as much as she does. She treats us like musicians rather than students which allows us to grow beyond the classroom,” Colin Raulf ‘20 said. 

Fiona Cubius ‘21 feels similarly. “Ms. Church is the kind of teacher everyone wants to have, but nobody knows it,” she said. “She’s the sweetest teacher and always wants the best for her students. She’s a hard-working, motivated teacher who doesn’t get enough credit for all that she does.”

The feeling is mutual between Mrs. Church and her students, and teaching was a blessing for her during her battle with dystonia. 

“The teaching became more important to me. All of a sudden that’s what I had for a while,” she said. 

“Teaching saved me for sure, because I love these guys [the students], no joke. I would take a bullet for them and I think they would do the same for me.”