Michael Henderson Makes Mark Teaching Music

Students range from Ward 5 residents to children of the rich and famous


A student at Michael Henderson's world drumming class

Photo by Breena Siegel

Ward 5 resident Michael Henderson leaves a musical trail wherever he goes. In addition to being a full time music teacher at Sidwell Friends School and a musical composer, he is also president of the Friends of Edgewood Recreation Center.

The 55 year old teacher began studying the piano in 4th grade. He said he had an “innate love for music.” When he was in elementary school, he remembers nagging his mother every day, saying “I need a piano.” Michael said he reached a turning point when a music teacher noticed he had perfect pitch. From then on, he started saving money earned from mowing lawns to purchase his own piano.

Mr. Henderson grew up in Denver, Colorado. He received scholarships to attend both high school and college. He attended Bowdoin College, where he graduated with honors in Music, and received a Masters in music composition from the California Institute of the Arts.

Mr. Henderson taught a music theory class at the Institute and soon realized that he a knack for teaching. “That’s when I knew I was going to be a teacher,” he said. Mr. Henderson’s teaching career has taken him to St. Louis, Los Angeles, Boulder and Boston, where he lived before coming to D.C. to teach at Sidwell Friends School.

“I’ve taught public, private and charter schools,” said Mr. Henderson. Prior to his arrival at Sidwell in 1997, Mr. Henderson said there was no full time music program there. Upon his arrival, Mr. Henderson set out to create a dynamic middle school music program. Mr. Henderson said he truly enjoys working at a school like Sidwell, where “the kids want to be challenged and aren’t afraid to do a little homework.” Sidwell Friends School has historically drawn children of high profile individuals.

At Sidwell, Mr. Henderson teaches almost every middle schooler. As the music teacher, his classes include music analysis, theory, composition, world drumming, hand chimes, hand bell choir and music technology. Mr. Henderson teaches two concert bands, two string ensembles, a jazz-rock band and the pit band, which plays for school musicals.

In addition to teaching, Mr. Henderson devotes his time to composing music and presenting his work throughout the United States. When asked to describe his compositions, he said “modern, classical chamber music. It’s also serious classical concert music. The harmonic language is my own – the choices of scale and pitch collection. Every composer has their own sort of language.”

Works by Mr. Henderson’s have premiered in New York City, St. Louis, and most recently at the Corcoran Gallery here in Washington D.C.

Even on top of his own musical pursuits and full time teaching position, Mr. Henderson takes his role as a Ward 5 resident seriously. Mr. Henderson is both president of the Friends of Edgewood Recreation Center and webmaster for the organization’s web site. He also leads a free monthly drumming class at the center.

“A drum circle teaches kids about listening and a common beat—and drum circles teach kids that there are instruments from all over the world,” Mr. Henderson said. He also teaches drumming at Sidwell Friends School, where students learn to play on djembes, congas, bongos, maracas, darabukas, buffalo drums, wood blocks and rhythm sticks.

The drumming class offered by Mr. Henderson at Edgewood Rec Center attracts a wide range of local residents, from grandmothers to five year old children. No matter who attends, the goal of finding a common beat in each class remains a constant. Mr. Henderson gave credit to ANC 5C for providing a $3,000 grant to purchase drums from around the world.

Mr. Henderson is truly a man that moves to the beat of his own drum. Find him and you will surely find music.

• • •
Free world drumming class
First Wednesdays of the month from 6-6:45 pm
Edgewood Rec Center, 200 Adams Street NE
For more information email Michael Henderson: edgewooddc@comcast.net

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