An Aca-Welcome

Getting To Know Emma Castaldi’s Long-Term Substitute


Photo credit: Gray Joseph

Photo of Ms. Cristie teaching her freshman class. Photo by Gray Joseph.

A blue and yellow checkered kite fills the sky. At the end of the string, flying the rope is Christie Chiles Twillie. On the weekends, Twillie likes to fly kites, but on the weekdays she is leading Parker’s various choir classes. Twillie has recently taken on the role of Middle and Upper School Music Teacher Emma Castaldi’s long-term substitute since Castaldi is on maternity leave.

Twillie is a professional pianist, music director, and vocal coach. She graduated from West Virginia University with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in piano performance but was not always planning on majoring in music. “When I was about to graduate from high school, even though I had scholarships for biology, I changed my mind at the last minute and decided to major in Piano instead,” Twillie said. “That was a huge deal because I was pretty sure I wanted to work in the medical field.”

Before becoming Castaldi’s long-term substitute, she was involved in the Parker community through her accompanying, helping out with musicals, vocal studio, and doing the Woman in Music MX every year. When she is not at Parker, she works in equity theatre. “I was either working as a conductor and vocal coach training casts or working on film-scoring and writing original music for plays,” Twillie said.

Twillie grew up surrounded by music, and it was an integral part of her and her family’s life. Her parents had a music store, and her father was a professional musician. “I started playing music when I was really young,” Twillie said. 

Castaldi and Twillie are good friends, and Castaldi was the one who recommended Twillie apply for the position. Twillie was excited to get the job. “I had already met a lot of the students there [Parker] through the vocal studio class and through doing the ‘Woman in Music MX’ every year, so I knew it was a great welcoming community and one that appreciated the arts,” Twillie said. “When the opportunity was there, it made sense.”

The biggest challenge that Twillie had faced is adjusting. “I came in at an awkward time and had to learn really quickly how to just pick up where we left off,” Twillie said. 

Despite any worries Twillie had, sophomore Lucas Daskal, a member of Grape Jam and Concert Choir, thinks the transition has been smooth. “When the semester started, Ms. Twillie stepped in, and so far I think she has done a very good job, especially considering the circumstances,” Daskal said. “I applaud her for what she has done so far.” Daskal also believes that Twillie has done a good job adapting to the new schedule. 

She has tasked her classes with various recording projects and new songs including the Pentatonics version of “Take On Me, ” “Amazing,” and others. “We have been doing the same thing in Grape Jam as Concert Choir. We just recently learned a song called ‘Water Fountain’ which we recorded the week of finals,” junior Sophia Rogers, a member of Grape Jam and Concert Choir said. 

One of the biggest difficulties that students have faced is how Twillie wants students to submit their voice recordings. “By now I’m sure most, if not everyone, are used to how Ms. Castaldi asked us to do it,” an anonymous student said, “But Ms. Christie has changed it so it feels a bit more confusing and seems to take a bit longer.”

One difference that students have noted between Castaldi and Twillie is how the class is run. Castaldi had taught fewer songs but focused more on meeting other students. Whereas, Twillie has zoomed in on learning more songs. “I know Ms. Christie has only been here a few weeks so far, but it seems as though Ms. Christie wants us to learn more songs instead of discovering our own love for music through different activities,” an anonymous student said. 

Daskal has noted another difference which is the workload. Twillie has provided the students with a heavier workload. “Ms. Twillie gives us assignments every class, and Ms. Castadi was more chill. She would say complete this by next week, and Twillie will give us an assignment every class,” Daskal said. 

Rogers believes that Twillie has been understanding of the unprecedented struggles of excessive zoom time and remote learning. “She was able to empathize and laugh and overall cheer me up a little after beginning to feel overwhelmed having so much work that I had to get done,” Rogers said.

In addition to her empathy, Roger’s notes that she is cheerful during class time. “She is passionate about music and is productive with student work in and out of class,” Rogers said.

Daskal has also appreciated the positive presence that she brings to the virtual classroom. “She is really nice. She is energetic. She loves to laugh,” Daskal said.  

Twillie has enjoyed the student’s enthusiasm to try different things so far. “I find that Parker students are very open-minded. I also love that they are very outspoken and can share their concerns when they have them,” Twillie said. “I think their eagerness to try and to learn and to succeed has been the most fulfilling for me.”

Although Twillie will only be leading Parker’s chorus for the duration of Castaldi’s absence, she wants to stay involved in the Parker community. “I plan to still help with musicals if they need it. I am deeply involved with the musical, even now,” Twillie said. “Also, I will accompany her and, or make recordings for her classes for as long as Parker needs me.”