Faculty & Staff Profiles

Faculty Spotlight: Lower School music teacher Luke Hoffman
Posted 01/19/2017 04:18PM

If you think a music teacher must have grown up immersed in music — taking piano or violin lessons before starting first grade, having a mom or dad who was a musician or music buff — you'd best think again if the music teacher is Luke Hoffman.

The Lower School music teacher didn’t play an instrument until he took band in middle school, and his family’s interest in music consisted of listening to it in the car or at home. 

But when the music bug bit, Hoffman was hooked.

Playing trumpet in band class was fun, but Hoffman realized he liked music more than he liked band. He began taking guitar lessons and “that’s when I really took off on my own. I would practice every day. I couldn’t go to sleep if I hadn’t practiced.

“I was making friends in early high school and we would play music together. Guitar is fun because you can play by yourself or with other people. It’s a fun social instrument, and I really started to love it.”

When it was time to apply to college, Hoffman started thinking about what he wanted to do with his life. “That’s when I decided I wanted to study music.”

Along the way, he has learned to “play a lot of instruments a little bit.” Guitar is Hoffman’s “most comfortable” instrument, but he also plays “piano, lots of stringed instruments — I have a banjo, a mandolin and a ukulele — and picked up the trumpet again for a little while. Anything that makes a sound, I like to play and tinker with.”

He studied classical guitar performance at UNC-Chapel Hill, playing with the UNC Guitar Ensemble every semester, but he began to feel pulled toward working with children.

“I think that comes from having a brother five years younger than me. I was always trying to help him or guide him when I was younger. When I was in Scouts, I always liked helping the younger kids along.”

Hoffman realized the perfect combination would be teaching music to kids. He graduated from UNC with a bachelor’s degree in music with an emphasis in education and performance, and then went straight into UNC’s Master of Arts in Teaching program.

His goal was to inspire kids the way so many of his teachers had inspired him. “You think of the people you look up to and admire, and hopefully you can be something like that.”

Growing up in Raleigh, Hoffman’s guitar teacher was a role model. “I thought it was cool that he could play lots of really great music on guitar, but also would expand into broader things, too. He was interested in anything. That’s something I’ve tried to emulate. Music is great, but combine it with interests in other things, too.”

He taught music at an elementary school in Wake County for a year after grad school, then married and moved to Washington, D.C., with his wife, Abby.

“I got a job pretty quickly at a public charter school in D.C. Some charter schools are great, and some are struggling. The reason I got the job so quickly was it was a really, really difficult school. … The other music teacher had left partway through the year.”

Hoffman’s job was split between two charter schools, teaching 1,000 students who ranged in age from 4 to 15. Neither school had a music room, and one school had no musical instruments other than a few drums.

“Sometimes the kids couldn’t go outside because there were gunshots in the vicinity. It was just really hard. You were trying to teach but really just trying to manage the kids with so many issues they come to school with. It was a super valuable experience looking back at it, but it was really hard at the time. I finished the school year there. It felt like one of those inspirational teacher movies where the kids come with all kinds of tough things going on in their lives. In the inspirational teacher movies, it always gets better at the end. There were small moments of victory, and hopefully I had some kind of impact, but I never had that moment where everything works out well.” 

Next was a part-time job, funded by the PTA, teaching music at a D.C. public school. Hoffman paired that with a job teaching private music lessons. After a year, the job at Peabody Primary School became full time and was funded by the school district.

“The school was really young kids — pre-k 3, pre-k 4 and kindergarten — but it was a healthy school, in an area where they had kids from lots of different backgrounds. We had everything from senators and congressmen’s kids, to kids with more struggles. It was a healthy balance, it seemed like most kids were successful. I really loved that school.”

When Hoffman arrived, the school didn’t have a music room or instruments, but by the time he left they had a music room fully stocked with instruments.

“I had been able to push and find funding. Kids loved the music program. I did a bunch of stuff after school as well. … When I left, they made a plaque and named the music room after me, the Luke Hoffman Music Room. It was hard to leave. I really felt like I had invested in the community and had been a part of it.”

Both Luke and Abby Hoffman are from North Carolina, and they knew they would eventually return to their home state. They liked the life they had built in D.C. and stayed longer than they had expected, but came back to Chapel Hill for Abby to begin a Ph.D. program in health policy and management.

A chance encounter led Hoffman to Durham Academy.

“I didn’t grow up too far from Ravenscroft, and I’d heard Durham Academy’s name a little bit. Before Abby started her Ph.D., we were in town to meet people. One of the people in her program had gone to Durham Academy for middle school and high school.”

When he heard Hoffman was looking for a job, he suggested that Hoffman check out Durham Academy.  

“He had played in a band and had had Mr. [Michael] Meyer as a teacher. He mentioned how faculty would go out of their way to be supportive of kids. … That was the kind of place I wanted to work.”

Hoffman joined the Lower School faculty in August 2016 and couldn’t be happier.

“Lots of times at the ages we have here, kids are uninhibited, really loving and caring. Continuing to guide some of those things is a true joy, sincerely. I’m thankful this is what I get to do.”

He has introduced ukulele into the Lower School music curriculum and is teaching fourth-graders to play. With 19 ukuleles in the music room, he can work with an entire class of fourth-graders.

“The baritone ukulele is what I’m teaching. It’s like a little guitar that has four strings, and it’s easy to transition to a six-string guitar. Kids can play individually or with friends.”

Hoffman has a special affinity for the instrument. He carried a ukulele with him when he spent four weeks hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail in summer 2014.

He knew he couldn’t go a month without music. He plays a little harmonica and thought about taking a harmonica with him. “But that wasn’t quite fun enough because you can’t sing along with it.” So he bought an inexpensive soprano ukulele that could slip into the top of his pack. “I played every day when I took a break, and I played at night when I got to camp. I got really good at ukulele and it was really fun.”

Hiking and camping have been part of Hoffman’s life since his Boy Scout days (he is an Eagle Scout). He played soccer, basketball and lacrosse growing up, ran track in middle school and competed in cross country as a high schooler.

“Running is the one I’ve really stuck with. I’ve done a handful of half marathons, and I did one full marathon. I like endurance things in general. I’ve done a couple of triathlons.”

Hoffman sees a parallel between sports and teaching.

“Teaching, at its best, is like when somebody who’s playing a sport is in the zone, on fire, everything is clicking and working really well. When you have those moments with your classes, with your kids, it’s really cool because they are getting so much out of it and you’re having a good time. They are learning and being challenged but it’s fun, they don’t think of it as something that’s bothersome or work. It’s fun but they are growing and learning so much.”

Follow the adventures in the Lower School music room via Hoffman’s Twitter feed: @LSmusicDA.

An independent, coeducational day school, pre-kindergarten through grade 12.
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