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The Coat of Arms

The Student News Site of Menlo School

The Coat of Arms

The Student News Site of Menlo School

The Coat of Arms

History and Harmony: New Teacher Joseph Mitchell On His Longtime Love for Music

Joseph Mitchell
Joseph Mitchell poses with his guitar.

From singing hymns at his childhood church to being in a rock band and composing musical tracks, musical expression is an important companion in the life of history teacher Joseph Mitchell. Even though Mitchell primarily spends his time in the classroom, he finds opportunities to polish former projects and compose new songs and tracks.

Performance is embedded in Mitchell’s lived experience, as he grew up singing at his local church with various musical role models alongside him. Meanwhile, Mitchell’s mother could play music by ear and played instruments her entire life, and Mitchell’s brother studied opera performance at The Juilliard School in New York. These family role models paved the way for Mitchell’s musical interest and encouraged him to take a possible music career into account.

At a young age, Mitchell began his musical journey by playing piano and viola and participating in school musicals throughout his high school years, strengthening his love for singing and the art of music. After auditioning for various college musical programs, Mitchell eventually enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, deciding to major in voice. However, his academic interests shifted toward history and political science, leading him to pursue a voice major for only a year and a half before devoting himself entirely to history.

Mitchell’s journey into music composition began during his college years. “I’ve always been interested in creating something new and uniquely mine instead of just following what’s written on the page,” Mitchell said.

Despite majoring in history, Mitchell continued to master music theory, eventually teaching himself to play the guitar. By the end of college, he had performed in a rock band at UNC and embarked on a career in composing and singing. His compositions encompass both lyrical and musical elements. He refers to these early works as “musical daydreams,” which, according to Mitchell, emit a “Beatle-esque” vibe.

At the moment, Mitchell is finalizing the guitar arrangements for his latest tracks, with plans to release a CD titled “Chateau Cordilleras” this year, which is available on Soundcloud. Inspired by history teacher and Global Programs Director Peter Brown, Mitchell is considering hosting a release concert at the Spieker Center to launch his CD.

After college, Mitchell aimed to create tracks for films, which was one of the great motivators behind his move to the Bay Area. However, Mitchell recognized the challenges of gaining recognition in the profession. Nevertheless, music continued to be a significant part of his free time, with a focus on composition. “Music has always been my favorite puzzle,” Mitchell said.

Music not only serves as a personal connection for Mitchell but is also intertwined with his career and his family. From a young age, his daughter was fixated on a Canadian indie rock artist, John Bryant, which provided them with a shared interest. Mitchell’s son is also very talented at playing instruments and is, according to Mitchell, “a better classical artist than I’ll probably ever be.”

As Mitchell continues teaching at Menlo, he hopes to see more creative arts performances. Mitchell expressed his love for the Winter Assembly, which brought to the spotlight the school’s orchestra, a theater group, and a presentation of students’s visual art. As a musician himself, he sympathizes with many of the rising musicians of Gen Z.

Mitchell believes that geographically and socially, the Bay Area has few places to present music. Still, he implores artists to hold onto their musical passion and curiosity. “If people aren’t listening or aren’t interested, it doesn’t mean what you’re doing is without value,” he said.

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Cindy Olguin
Cindy Olguin, Staff Writer

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    Alan KennedyApr 19, 2024 at 4:58 pm

    LOVE THIS! I met Joe In college 1981. We connected instantly with our passion for music. I’ve always deeply admired his beautiful, beautiful voice. Was also in the cliffhangers at Carolina.. He creates music from his soul… He also has a passion for music and vocalist that deeply love. If you get a chance to get to know this man, take advantage of that opportunity.!