Rodriguez charts new course for Mac choir

Veteran choir director aims to travel to Europe, build relationships with top collegiate choral programs


Evelyn Griffin

Ms. Rodriguez conducts her first-period choir class on Aug. 23. A 30-year veteran who has taught in Corpus Christi, Bastrop, Pflugerville and most recently at Akins High School, Rodriguez says she was drawn to the Fine Arts Academy because of the caliber of students it attracts.

Evelyn Griffin and Julian Magee

After the departure of McCallum Choir director Allison Kashdan last year, students were left wondering who would take her place. Combining beloved traditions with a new tenacity, Stephanie Rodriquez is more than ready.

Rodriguez has been a teacher for 30 years, beginning in Corpus Christi and making her way north through Bastrop and Pflugerville, most recently having taught at Akins High School. When she saw that a job was open here in Austin, at a fine arts academy no less, she jumped at the opportunity, knowing a school like McCallum comes with perks.

“Sometimes you get supported with finances, or you’re able to buy music you weren’t able to buy before, or uniforms,” Rodriguez said. “But the biggest thing for me was the students. They’re drawn from all over the city and they come to school here because they represent the best of the fine arts.”

The rest of the fine arts staff is happy to have her here.

I’m so grateful to meet so many nice people. Not just the people I work with, but the other directors, the students and the parents I’ve talked to.

— Stephanie Rodriguez, choir director

“I’m so grateful to meet so many nice people,” Rodriguez said. “Not just the people I work with, but the other directors, the students and the parents I’ve talked to. Everybody has been very welcoming.”

Associate director Tyler Mabry is helping Rodriguez acclimate to her new teaching environment. They were only able to meet a few times before school started, but they are quickly figuring out how best to manage the choir this year.

“Right now, we’re still getting to know each other and getting to know what we both bring to the program,” Mabry said. “I’m just sitting back and learning her teaching style, and figuring out how best to be along for the ride.”

The choir students this year have quickly gotten used to having Rodriguez around.

“She’s going to be very good at whipping us into shape and getting us all to work together in a strong way,” senior Kai Kirkham said. “She’s good at directing and helping us know what we need to do.”

Rodriguez leads parents to the choir room for a tour during the choir social in August. Booster club president Dana Kay Boyd is optimistic about this year. “It’s an exciting time to be a part of the Mac Choir community,” she said, “and I’m honored to be the Choir Booster President this year.” After only virtual performances during the pandemic, she and everyone else is happy to have students back in the choir room. Photo by Evelyn Griffin.

Choir booster club president Dana Kay Boyd looks forward to the coming year with Rodriguez at the helm.

“In person, Ms. Rodriguez is full of energy and purpose,” she said. “She knew exactly what she needed and directed us easily, which is wonderful from a booster position. I believe Mac Choir is poised to morph and to rise this year.”

Following a nearly entirely virtual school year, there were worries that choir classes would not be as full or motivated this year. Thankfully, there are more students eager to be in choir than expected.

“We’re starting with quite good numbers in choir at the beginning of this year,” Mabry said. “Part of the concept of rebuilding the choir is getting new students used to what we used to do by second nature.”

My hope is that we can start really building back what we used to be like. Not just the technique of it, but the spirit of it.

— Tyler Mabry, associate choir director

Looking into the future of the choir program, Rodriguez has many plans.

“I want to travel with them,” she said. “I really want to go to Europe, because there are some places there that are like the Mecca of choral music.”

Many choir students plan to take their musical education further than high school. Rodriguez wants to propel those dreams by inviting representatives from notable performing arts colleges such as Juilliard and the Berklee College of Music to hold information sessions in the choir room.

When considering which Mac Choir traditions to keep and which ones to nix, Rodriguez consulted with her students. They were adamant about keeping the crowd favorite: Choir Cabaret. Most students also wish to continue performing a masterwork each year.

“My hope is that we can start really building back what we used to be like,” Mabry said. “Not just the technique of it, but the spirit of it.”

Above all, Rodriguez hopes to get her choir’s voice out there, across the country and perhaps even across the pond.

“We have the talent, we have the initiative,” she said, “and we need to make sure that gets pulled through.”