Kniess’ love of music is passed on to vocal students

Brett Kniess, the MHS vocal music teacher, has been with the district since 2011. He’s taught music for 18 years, working with middle school, high school and college-age students. Here, the high school choir works on selections for the upcoming Dessert Concert, with Kniess leading the actions. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
Panther Professionals
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Panther Professionals is a weekly series highlighting educators, administrators, staff and aides who are dedicated to the future of the Monticello Community School District.

     Pursuing a career in education was an easy choice for Monticello High School Vocal Music teacher Brett Kniess.

     “I was involved in music myself when I was in high school,” he said.

     This is Kniess’ 18th year in education; he’s been with MHS since 2011.

     “I’ve always taught high school,” he said, “and some middle school.”

     He said teaching music is an easy task for him; not seeing it as work so much as a hobby.

     Kniess received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, majoring in music education.

     In his career, he’s taught in Wisconsin, North Cedar Schools in Iowa, and Western Illinois University. His tenure at Western Illinois was with the college’s vocal jazz department.

     Kniess moved to Iowa after meeting his wife who is also a music teacher for the Western Dubuque School District, working with middle school students.

     Aside from presenting concerts and competing in vocal contests, Kniess said his class at MHS is very much performance-based. The students perform once every quarter.

     “The class teaches the basic fundamentals for music,” he said, which includes singing, music notes, rhythm, etc. “As we progress, the music gets harder, the students’ ranges change.” He said some students gain a wider range vocally, while others, noticeably the males, see a change in the voices.

     Kniess works with about 140 students. Every school year, he hopes to gain 30-40 new students from the middle school as they enter high school.

     He said the students look forward to competing in All-State competitions or solo/ensemble contests, something he’s not too aggressive at pursuing.

     “I’m generally not a competitive person,” he said, “but the students are.” He explained the students like to do better every time, not necessarily outdoing others. “The scores are based on their own abilities,” he added.

     Having taught at other schools, Kniess said he prefers the smaller schools like Monticello. “I wouldn’t want to get any bigger,” he said.

     Aside from teaching at MHS, Kniess also teaches a music appreciation class three days a week at Kirkwood’s Jones Regional Education Center. This is a class he just started teaching this school year.

     “It’s been nice,” he said. “It’s something different for me, and a learning experience.”

     He said he’s been able to balance his time well between JREC and his MHS students. “I want to make sure the kids at the high school have their time,” he said, first and foremost.

     Kniess said the teaching opportunity has also been beneficial for him.

     Outside of the classroom, Kniess and the other vocal and band teacher collaborate together to coordinate concerts.

     “We’re a small team and we work together to make sure the kids are learning what they should be,” he said.

     He meets with the high school choir kids once every six days for private voice lessons, too.

     “We work on assessments outside of the group class,” he said.

     Teaching vocal music, Kniess said he’s proud to offer students something else to do outside of the required, general subjects.

     “It’s nice when I hear from my former students who have found ways to incorporate music in their lives,” he said.

     Kniess praised the MCSD for having a strong tradition of musical talent, as well as parents who support the arts.

     “In some communities, you don’t have that,” he said.

     Kniess and his wife live near Farley with their 2-year-old and 6-year-old daughters. He said they stay busy with their young kids, and do enjoy being outside.



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