Betsy Kraning is embracing the next phase of her career as she has always done, by welcoming the change and excitement of the potential new direction her music can take.
That may be surprising considering she’s stepping away from teaching music to Annapolis area public school students after 40 years. But now her career will wrap July 1 at Annapolis High School where she has taught chorale and guitar since 2000.
Hillsmere Elementary, Rolling Knolls Elementary, Annapolis Middle School—Kraning has taught music at them all. In some cases, her high school choir members, or guitar students, have been under her direction since first grade.
And now, she’s looking toward a life outside of school and the challenges that will present. As it turns out, she’s facing it with the same sensibility she instills in her students.
“Be open to challenges,” Kraning said, talking about what she teaches her students. “Be creative. Try different things with your music. I think the secret is the students. They bring their ideas and I show them what I can teach them. We bounce ideas off of each other. That’s where the big ideas come from.”
But retiring after 40 years of teaching isn’t an off-the-cuff decision.
“I think I got excited with the idea of other things I could do,” Kraning said recently at an interview in the music room where she holds court seated behind a grand piano.
She said she’s going to be a part-time music director at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, where she is a member. She also said she plans to bring the same philosophy of diverse music tastes and interests that she has shared with her students.
But her “dream” is to establish an Annapolis Boys Choir. As she begins to explain her plan, it becomes apparent that Kraning’s dream may be a little closer to reality than she lets on.
She said she’s spoken with local Boys & Girls Clubs and even has plans to work with boys from 7 years old through middle school. Kraning said the choir would be made up of boys from all over, but said she is especially interested in working with at-risk African American students.
“This is sort of my mission,” she said. “This is something I believe in.”
Many of her current students weren’t surprised to hear their teacher’s future plans, saying she’s the perfect person to bring music to those who otherwise may not be exposed to it.
Demontrae Easton, an 18-year-old Annapolis High senior, said he was a little uncertain about his move to the new high school. This year was his first year there.
“No other teacher opened her arms and welcomed me like she did,” Easton said of Kraning. “I just molded in. No other teacher was there to help me as much as she did, to work with me.”
Junior Lauren Gehring, 17, said Kraning has been one of the best teachers she’s ever had. She helped Gehring get the lead in a school performance and even spent extra time working with drummers for a recent performance.
“She doesn’t do it because she has to,” Gehring of Rolling Knolls said. “She does it because she wants to.”
Khadijah Nesbitt, a 15-year-old freshman from Arnold, said Kraning manages to put music in relatable terms for the students.
“She shows us how music relates to other subjects like math and geography,” Nesbitt said. “She always puts music in different terms, helps us realize it is not just notes on paper.”
Quite a journey
Kraning graduated from Severna Park High School but only attended there her senior year after graduating from the Peabody Conservatory Preparatory in Baltimore, where she grew up. She’s lived in Admiral Heights for the past 25 years.
Her journey in music began when started playing piano at the age of 7.
“I did dance before that and I was so bad at it that my mom put in piano,” she said with a laugh.
At 10 years old she began at Peabody Prep and learned how to use the Baltimore city bus system and make her way through the city to get to the school.
She played drums in middle school, back when it was still called junior high. She then played bassoon all through high school and even majored in the woodwind, and piano, at Towson University.
Her first teaching job in 1970 was at Richard Henry Lee Elementary School in Glen Burnie. She taught at Chesapeake Bay Middle School for 10 years, then went to Annapolis Middle School and worked with the choir.
Then there were nine years at Rolling Knolls Elementary and even time at Hillsmere Elementary. She then made her way to Annapolis High.
The high school hadn’t had a choir for some time prior to her arrival. That quickly changed.
“I didn’t really plan it that way, but it has been really neat to see kids I taught in first grade,” Kraning said. “I would watch as those students became leaders in their classes. It has been really great for the program.”
And now, 11 years later, she shares an easy smile thinking about leaving the school district she’s called home for decades.
“Since 1953, I’ve been getting up in September knowing it’s the start of a new school year,” Kraning said. “I’m going to travel in September, when everybody else is going back to school.”