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Get to Know CSSMA's New Executive Director Dr. Christina Placilla

CSSMA INSPIRATIONS vol. 198


In honor of the start of Women’s History Month, we wanted to give our community a chance to learn more about an influential and inspiring woman at CSSMA, our new Executive Director Dr. Christina “Chrissie” Placilla!

 

A musician, educator, vlogger, and avid fiber artist, Chrissie has been part of the Church Street School family for almost three months, taking the helm as our fearless leader at the beginning of December 2023.  


Born in Troy, New York, Chrissie is a longtime musician, arts educator, and administrator who has had a deep connection to music since childhood. “As a kid, I was always making up my own little songs and I remember making myself cry over the silly melodies that I would create. I think the most memorable moment that made me realize I loved music was in my childhood around the age of 9. My father was a fan of Classical music and was interested in learning more about it, so he used to get the Time/Life Record Series ‘The Great Men of Music’. [...] I distinctly remember the Tchaikovsky set of albums coming in and hearing Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet for the first time and being moved to physically dance to the music. I have always been someone who has felt music viscerally [...] I still ‘dance’ when I play and it is part of how I connect to the music to express myself and in turn, it helps me connect further with the audience” remembered Chrissie. 

 

She began her formal study of music in 6th grade when she started playing her first instrument, the viola. To this day, the viola is her main instrument, and she regularly plays and performs with the string instrument that she picked up all those years ago. “I fell in love with this alto voice of the string family immediately!” Chrissie said when asked about her selection of the viola. Chrissie went on to study Viola Performance in Undergrad at California State University, Long Beach, and in Grad School at the University of Hartford. Eventually receiving her Doctorate in Viola Performance at the University of Colorado at Boulder. 

 

A few of her notable achievements include: Competing in the Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition on the Isle of Man and playing concerts in Australia, Spain, and throughout the United States. Chrissie has also been awarded both first and second prizes in the David Dalton Research Competition sponsored by the American Viola Society for articles written about works for viola.


Chrissie and her String Ensemble Performing 'When I'm 64' by The Beatles During Open Mic Night


Chrissie’s passion for education was apparent at an early age. “As a teenager, my high school teachers saw I had the teaching bug and encouraged me to consider being a teacher of some sort. [...] I started teaching formally at the age of 19, giving private lessons, and have now been teaching for 30 years” Chrissie shared. 

 

After completing her Doctorate, Chrissie served as the Orchestra Director at Valencia High School in Placentia, CA and a strings specialist at Corona Del Mar High School in California. Additionally, she started the chamber music program at the Four Seasons Youth Orchestra and was the Artist-in-Residence of Viola and Chamber Music at the North Carolina School for the Arts for six summers. In 2005 Chrissie was offered the position of Assistant Professor of Music and Orchestra Conductor at Winston-Salem State University (WSSU), a historically Black institution in North Carolina. While at WSSU, Chrissie held many leadership positions including Chair of the Faculty Senate and the Faculty Fellow in the Teaching and Learning Center for the University. 

 

While at WSSU, Chrissie realized that her role as an Orchestra Conductor at a predominantly Black institution required that she teach and build curricula that had a foundation in diversity, equity, and inclusion or DEI, in order to fully connect to her students and their lived experiences. “Not [only are you teaching students] about traditional orchestral works but you are also teaching them about how different musical genres can be played on strings and about the numerous Black composers who have been historically overlooked in most music programs. This allows them to see themselves as string players with a future in that art.” Chrissie said when speaking about discovering her passion for DEI in the arts. Upon taking on the Faculty Senate Chair role at WSSU, most of the work she led was based around promoting DEI in the classroom. When she eventually left WSSU in 2019 to work as the Director of Education at the Harmony Program in NYC, she continued to center DEI initiatives when training teaching artists and creating programs.   

 

When asked about why she feels diversity in arts education is so important, Chrissie responded: “It is important to feel valued and seen as a human when you study the arts. If you do not learn about the art of, play the music of, or experience music by people who look like you, it can be difficult for many to see themselves on a stage or hanging in a gallery.” 


Music faculty at Winston-Salem State University. Image courtesy of Winston Salem State University.


Our focus this year at Church Street School and at our upcoming annual gala, THE EVENT, is accessibility and inclusion. Beginning on her very first day at Church Street School, Chrissie made it clear that promoting and fostering accessible arts education at CSSMA was at the top of her list of priorities. When we asked her why this initiative was so important to her, Chrissie cited two very personal reasons “Firstly, I was someone who was originally written off by my first main music teacher due to challenges with hearing delays I had as a child. Because I had significant hearing delays, I struggled to understand and hear intonation and could often not identify when I was not in tune. [...] Over time, I had to teach myself to feel intonation through string vibration and finger placement and I used this information to help other students and people with hearing challenges with my practical research once I started to teach at the collegiate level.”  

 

Chrissie's Children Colleen & Gabriel

Her second reason is being a mother of two neurodivergent children. “My daughter Colleen has ADHD and my son Gabriel has Autism. Both of them function best when they use both music and visual art to connect with their feelings and the world around them. It helps them both tune out the extra noise, and tune in their focus. Colleen plays the clarinet and loves to paint. Gabriel is currently in Creative Arts Club at Church Street School and on his own he creates new songs using his voice and his tablet. I have worked with many students for whom music and art are integral to their communication with the world, their growth as humans, and their academic success. The arts space is where these young people find their sense of belonging and their voice in a very literal way. It is where they can safely connect with emotions and allows them a place to be their unique selves. I have experienced the power accessible arts education has had on numerous students, including my own children, this is why I am so passionate about it.”


Chrissie Performing LULLABY by Julia Klumpkey at the Alpharetta, Georgia Steinway Gallery.


We are incredibly proud and honored to have Chrissie as part of the CSSMA family. In the last three months we have already seen the amazing changes she has and will continue to bring to our haven for the arts! Please be sure to give Chrissie a warm welcome next time you see her in the halls of 41 White Street so she can get to know the members of this wonderful community better. 


Chrissie will also be in attendance at this year’s EVENT gala fundraiser on April 9th! If you are interested in meeting her and showing your support for accessible arts education for ALL at CSSMA you can click here to purchase a ticket or sponsorship, or make a donation.  

 

A Final Note from Chrissie on Inclusivity in the Arts & Supporting this Year’s EVENT Gala: 


 



 





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