Vocal virtuoso takes talents to choir program

Anna Arnsberger

On the first day of school this year, Anthony Pierce asked each student in his advanced choir class to sing a snippet of a song. Many students, used to a day of course overviews and expectations, were taken aback by their new teacher’s abrupt welcome to class. But this unexpected diagnostic would set the tone for Pierce’s teaching—singing comes first. The syllabus would just have to wait.

Before this fall, Pierce had spent one year at Boone Elementary (then called Orr) followed by four years at Dunbar High School. His move to Wilson was highly anticipated for him, as Dunbar’s dwindling choir program made it difficult to teach his true passion of singing. Pierce was eager to begin working with Wilson’s much more established vocal music track, and he now teaches Choir I, II, III, and IV, along with General Music.

Born and raised in Durham, North Carolina, music has been a part of Pierce’s life for almost as long as he can remember. His mom sings, his dad sings, even his grandma sings. So it’s no surprise that Pierce took up the same hobby at just four years old. Singing is simply in his blood. Pierce attributes the development of his vocal abilities to his musical upbringing at church. “It becomes part of you,” he explained. “You learn a sense of rhythm, of timing, and then it’s just the more you do it, the better you become.”

The church choir became Pierce’s home for the rest of his youth. While he dabbled in community baseball and basketball teams, Pierce only ever committed to one activity: “Choir was my sport.”

So Pierce kept singing throughout high school and into college. He attended North Carolina Central University, where he majored in music with a vocal performance concentration. Directly out of college, Pierce made a place for himself working in community support. He was tasked with assisting clients who had mental health and socialization difficulties. While he often found the job therapeutic and rewarding, it, unfortunately, required no musical dexterity.

Pierce was dissatisfied without a proper musical profession. But he still had no initial intentions to work in education, despite having taught choir at his church since age 16. “Somebody asked me, ‘So you’re going to teach kids?’ And I was like, ‘I’m not teaching nobody’s kids,’ and here I am 12 years later,” he recalled. 

It wasn’t until a meeting with one teenage client’s principal that Pierce considered the possibility of teaching. The atmosphere created by kids running in and out of school just seemed to entice him. Not long after, Pierce received a masters of music in education from Boston University and began his teaching career.

Pierce is currently in the process of obtaining a doctorate of education from Grand Canyon University. His dissertation, “Black boys sing too: a descriptive study of cultural responsive teaching in urban choir classrooms” corresponds with Pierce’s more untraditional views on musical education. “There are more kinds of music than classical music. There are indigenous people’s music, there’s African… and what music education does, is they call that world music, and that’s not right,” he explained. Pierce plans on exposing his students to all genres of music and vocal skills, rather than just the whitewashed classical standard. 

In addition to teaching, Pierce is part of the gospel-show choir ensemble DaNell Daymon and Greater Works. The group rose to fame in 2017, prior to Pierce’s arrival, after making it to the finals of America’s Got Talent. He describes the group as, “a lot of hard, high singing… and you have to be energetic, it’s not just standing there.” Pierce translates his actions with the choir into his own classroom, where he expects equally-high levels of intensity from his students. 

Pierce looks forward to his classes at Wilson being a hub for all things singing. In order for all students to find their voice, he intends on training each one to be functional in every musical setting. The way he puts it, “Everyone’s going to be a powerhouse when they leave my room.” But some of Pierce’s objectives for the year boil down to something a little more competitive. One of his main goals? “To give Duke Ellington a run for their money.”