Music Matters: Bringing the Cause to the National Stage
Miss Florida 2017 Sara Zeng Speaks Up for Music Education
When you were five years old, did you know what you wanted to do when you grew up? Most children do not, although they are exposed to people and experiences along the way who help develop who and what they will become as adults. That is why I teach music. Music education helped me become Miss Florida 2017, winning over $20,000 in scholarships, to fulfill a dream to play the piano for the largest audience of my life in September!
When I was five years old, I remember watching my sister play the piano and I knew then that I wanted to play the piano too. Little did I know that I had begun something that would last a life-time. I started school soon after at a small school that held a music class once, sometimes twice a week. We didn’t have much as far as resources or instruments, but we had a dedicated music teacher who shared her passion in music. And I absolutely loved it. I excelled in music class and felt more comfortable there than I did in any other class, my confidence eventually spilling over to my other classes. When fourth grade rolled around, it was time for the school band director to find new recruits! I was thrilled to pick up the flute and learn a new instrument. Although everyone had an opportunity to try the various band instruments, not all students joined the band. Some parents have financial hardships, putting instrument rental or purchase out of their reach.
I loved being in the band—we had fun while creating community with those who watched our performances. When I began high school, I wanted that same environment and to have all my music training revolve around my primary instrument—piano. Fortunately, my high school had an after-school jazz ensemble, and I became their new keyboardist. To develop further, I needed training in accompaniment, sight-reading, and music theory and enrolled at Levine School of Music.
When the time came to select an undergraduate program, both my piano teacher and band director were very supportive in my search for a music college. With their help I found Florida State University’s School of Music. When I arrived there, I knew there was no other place I could have wanted to study music! My piano teacher at FSU continued to guide my training, and in four years I graduated with a Bachelor’s of Music Education. I am a certified elementary school music teacher, and I eagerly accepted a job offer to teach at an elementary school in Florida. My life plan was set!
But life always brings twists and turns. I also had a long-time goal of playing the piano on the Miss America stage before I turned 24. After two attempts competing on the Miss Florida stage winning a Talent award and many hours practicing with my piano teacher, I won and will be competing for the 97th Miss America Competition in Atlantic City, NJ, on September 6-10, 2017.
Each contestant in the Miss America Scholarship Organization competes in a 90-second talent (35% of the score), a 10-minute press-style interview (25%), evening wear (15%), lifestyle and fitness (10%), and on-stage question (5%). In addition, each contestant chooses her own personal service platform. My platform is “Music Matters!”—keeping music education in our school system. For me, the journey to Miss Florida and the inspiration for my platform all started at age five with a music education in my developing years.
That the biggest recital I will probably ever play will be at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, for the Miss America competition, is something I dreamed about, but I never thought in a million years I would be in this position I am in now, thanks to my music education! I am grateful to those teachers who worked with me to make it happen. I had the opportunity to play an instrument and experience music in school my whole life, and it has truly impacted my outlook on life. I believe every child has a right to that opportunity to explore music. Not only is it important for young children to experience music, but so many students struggle at home or in school, and music is often the answer. I have seen its effects in boosting students’ attitudes toward school and achieving greater academic success at school.
Our students need a chance to be successful and to express themselves. It is my hope that the more schools and administrators I can reach with my platform across the state of Florida and possibly across the nation as Miss America, that more schools will see the value in music education.
From my elementary music education with few resources to tuition scholarships, music education helped me become a musician; led me to Florida; led me to become an educator; and led me to create my platform and spread awareness of its importance. Music education led me to where I am now as Miss Florida and to what I hope to bring to Miss America. Music Matters!
Sara Zeng is Miss Florida 2017 and will be competing in the Miss America pageant this Sunday, September 10, 2017. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Read more about Sara here.