Lilly grant allows Zionsville Middle School music teacher to explore overseas

CIZ COM 0306 Ashley Ray
ZMS orchestra director Ashley Ray will travel overseas this summer thanks to a Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship. (Photo by Dawn Pearson)

By Dawn Pearson

At a young age studying violin, Ashley Ray learned how powerful and inspirational music can be.

Ray is the Zionsville Middle School orchestra director. She also is the  adaptive music teacher, United Sound club advisor, Strolling Strings club advisor and Zionsville Community High School musical pit orchestra director and is one of 100 teachers in Indiana to awarded a 2018 Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship.

Her competition was steep, as 540 teachers and educators applied for the fellowship, which gives K-12 educators the opportunity to restore their love of learning by providing financial support and encouragement to renew their commitment to education.

Ray’s proposal, “Exploring Romantic Nationalism in Slavic Countries,” earned a $12,000 grant to support a project of personally and professionally fulfilling activities.

Ray, an Indianapolis resident, will use the funds to spend the month of June traveling Russia and the Czech Republic. After experiencing the music, art, history and culture of those nations, Ray expects to better understand the national musical influence of famous composers and appreciate the deeper meaning of the music her students perform in orchestra class.

“My favorite aspect of teaching is experiencing the resilience and perseverance that music teaches to students,” Ray said. “My students work so hard, and it brings me so much joy to see their hard work pay off when they give exceptional performances at our concerts.”

Teaching orchestra opened her eyes to how powerful music can be.

“Throughout my teaching, I have heard so many students say that learning to play an instrument has been one of their greatest accomplishments,” she said. “Students tell me that music helps them work through their anxiety, stress or other uncertainty in their life.”

Ray started her musical journey in Illinois learning to play the violin and switched to the viola while attending Carmel High School.