Mike Simons (MS): Tonya, you have been a member of the Intonation community for many years now, and in many capacities. I couldn’t be more thrilled to introduce you as Intonation’s next Executive Director. I remember working with you many years ago in your office at NKO planning programming for the year, including for your kids Tzoe and Zia Rey, who were elementary students with Intonation at the time. I’d love to ask some questions that share who you are to me and the team as a person.

MS: What was your first encounter with Intonation? What role were you in?

Tonya Howell (TH): My first encounter with Intonation was as a classroom teacher at NKO. Rock band classes took place in my classroom every Wednesday after school. I got to witness the setup and listen to the buzz of instruction and practice in my classroom as I graded papers and prepped for the next day. Tzoe, a 2nd grader, at the time, joined the band and then I became a parent of the program as well as a super fan.

MS: How do you think your experience as the parent of an Intonation student will inform your work?

TH: It is so important to see the work from as many perspectives as possible. Parents are our students’ first teachers and advocates, so it is super important to ensure their voices are heard and included in decision-making. I am lucky enough to still be a parent with Intonation since Zia Rey is now in Teen Band on Saturdays and Tzoe is applying for the Musician’s Trust. I see our parents as partners in the work.

MS: How do you think your experience as a multi-year program partner of Intonation will inform your work?

TH: Again, seeing the work from many angles is so important. I can better speak to our schools and partners from personal experience. I can relate to the challenges they face in terms of competing priorities and the number of things that they have on their plates while also speaking to the value of Intonation and how much our students benefit from such partnerships, both inside and outside of school.

MS: What do you love most about the Bronzeville community?

TH: I love the energy of the community and the people who make Bronzeville such a special place. Bronzeville has so many dedicated people and committed organizations who truly care about the well-being of the folks who live, work, learn and play here. I feel connected to my neighbors and local businesses. There is so much love throughout the Greater Bronzeville community.

MS: You have been a board member, a program partner, a dedicated advocate, and have provided professional development for our program team. What has kept you engaged with Intonation for the past 10 years?

TH: I have been willing to offer my time and energy to Intonation for a few reasons. The first is that I have always been so impressed by the amazing instructors and staff. Their energy is infectious and makes you want to be a part of it. Second, I like to be an active participant for my own children and children I care about. And then there is just my love for music and the joy that music brings to our lives.

MS: What is the best live music experience you’ve had so far?

TH: Besides sitting in the front row watching my own children on stage… I would have to say the music festivals during the summertime in Chicago have been the best for me. Festivals like West Fest or the Silver Room Block Party give the best of both worlds when it comes to live bands and listening to (and dancing to) DJs. I have spent full days at those festivals soaking in the energy that comes from the music. My favorite DJs are masterful at presenting songs in a way that moves me to dance and celebrate life. And I have listened to bands that give me goosebumps. Music has always been a major part of my life and is certainly part of my own identity.

Mike, what advice do you have for me?

MS: My wish for you is full faith in your intuition, instinct, and lived experience as you lead Intonation into its next chapter and that the highest value you’ve always placed on relationships will further unite our dedicated team and community for the deepest impact in the lives of our students and families. Keep in mind that we celebrate your leadership style as part of the plan, as well as all that will be different from what has come before. Above all, I know you’ll always be a kindred spirit in holding close music’s power to heal, unite, bring joy and change lives!

Please join us in welcoming Tonya! Reach out at [email protected]