Nora Jane Struthers, BS '05, English Education
You have a bachelor's degree in English Education from NYU Steinhardt. What drew you to Steinhardt to study this field? Was education always a passion for you?
I have always loved language, stories, and people. At the beginning of my senior year in high school, I realized that teaching English literature and writing to high school students was a great way to combine these three passions. Steinhardt had a great reputation for actually preparing teachers for the classroom and of course, New York City itself was an attractive supplement to the education NYU offered.
What led you to New York City? What was your teaching experience like in New York City schools?
I grew up in northeast New Jersey and my family frequented the city when I was growing up so moving to New York did not even really seem like it required much of a transition. Right after I graduated in May of 2005 I got a job teaching Sophomore English at The Williamsburg Charter High School, a brand new Charter school in Brooklyn. I learned so much in my three years teaching there and I had a lot of fun too. We had a young, energetic, innovative, and mostly optimistic staff, even so, the stress was intense. I would run 2-3 miles every morning in an attempt to help healthily manage the incredible pressure I felt as a new teacher. The students were definitely the best part of the job.
You recently released your self-titled debut album, Nora Jane Struthers. Has music always been a part of your life? When did you first begin performing?
I grew up playing and singing bluegrass and country with my dad, Al Struthers. He plays banjo and guitar and sings like a pro, though he has never made music his profession. I was always involved in music through school; I even sang with the NYU all female a cappella group, The Cleftomaniacs, for two years. After graduating NYU, my dad and I began performing out in New York and New Jersey under the name Dirt Road Sweetheart.
What inspired you to make the jump from teaching to the music industry?
In 2006 I was introduced to the first professional musician I'd ever met. Somehow, meeting someone who actually was able to support himself by playing music made it seem like an attainable career. After I realized that it was a real possibility, it became clear that if I didn't give it a shot, I would have a pretty serious regret. I try to avoid having serious regrets, so I quit my job at The Williamsburg Charter School.
How would you describe your album? What artists have inspired you?
The record is very literary; there's a story in every song. Sonically and lyrically, the record is largely influenced by the music of Tim O'Brien and Gillian Welch.
On your website, www.norajanestruthers.com, your music is referred to as "Classic Americana." Tell us a little more about this genre. How did you become interested in this style of music, and how does it differ from the "Top 40" radio we hear today?
I define Americana as music that incorporates elements of American musical generes (Cajun, Bluegrass, Jazz, Old Time, Jug Band, Folk, Gospel, Blues, etc...) but cannot be classified as "belonging to" any one of these genres. My music incorporates elements of bluegrass, old time, and Celtic music, but aficionados of any of these genres would readily agree that my music cannot accurately be filed under any of these labels. Americana, therefore, is the umbrella under which music can just be music.
Do you have any plans for a second album release?
I've already got half an album written and I'm hoping to release my sophomore project in the first quarter of 2012. Recording is so much fun.
Have you noticed any parallels between the education world and the music world? If so, what are they?
They both require a ton of energy, organization, and at the end of the day, after all the preparation, if you can't entertain your audience, you'd better find a new gig.
Your passion for both education and music shine through. What advice do you have for students who are interested in a few different fields?
The skills and lessons I learned in my first career as a teacher have been absolutely essential to my success in the music business. If I had jumped right into music after high school, I do not think I would have been able to see it through. As far as advice goes, this sounds so lame, but it is so true: Believing in yourself is the scariest and most difficult part of following a dream. It helps to surround yourself with honest and supportive people, but in the end, if you don't believe you can do it, you wont do it.
For more information on Nora Jane Struthers and her music, visit www.norajanestruthers.com.