EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of several profiles of the people who make up the fabric of Denton. If you have a suggestion for someone to be featured in a profile, send us an e-mail at email@example.com.
Jan Kagarice is a musician and swimmer with a booming voice and big smile. The 20-year Denton resident has explored several disciplines and activities.
She is, among other things, a world-famous trombonist, a University of North Texas music professor, a prodigious swimming coach and a focal dystonia rehabilitator.
Kagarice grew up the daughter of a longtime East Coast Catholic family.
“I came down to Denton to go to the music school, majoring in trombone,” she said. “When I drove in, it was a really hot August day in 1984. I had all of my belongings in the back of a Honda Civic. There were dead locusts all over the street and dying grass. My first thought as I drove in on [U.S. Highway] 380 was ‘uh-oh, I gave up the mountains and the coast. What was I thinking?’”
While the climate shock has not completely worn off, the young musician soon came to deeply appreciate what Denton was all about.
“While I’m still not a fan of the landscape, I was shocked coming from the New England Conservatory to find such exceptionally gifted musicians at North Texas,” she said. “It was East Coast arrogance.
“It felt like a cowboy town at first, but what I like about Denton now is that it seems like it’s constantly reinventing itself. Denton is the new Austin.”
Kagarice came to study and teach music. But between touring the nation’s premiere orchestras and earning professorships in New York and Germany, she soon fell in love with the Montessori teaching philosophy. She began teaching kindergarten at several Denton schools, including the Community School and the Selwyn College Preparatory School.
“I don’t remember how I found Montessori,” she said. “I seriously have no idea about why I went to the training session. The very first night I went, I was sitting there thinking, ‘this is everything I believe in;’ it was frightening. Afterward, I explained my feelings to the woman leading the session, and she told me, ‘You’re a Montessori teacher. You just didn’t know what the name was.’”
This love of teaching continued in ways she never expected. After a successful stint at Selwyn, Kagarice focused on helping fellow musicians overcome focal dystonia, a neurological condition that causes involuntary muscle contractions, often derailing many a promising musician’s career.
She said her investigations into rehabilitating the disorder were a result of her own experience.
“It became difficult for me to play,” Kagarice said. “So I had to rethink my playing methodology. You combine that with the hope to make people play better and the Montessori philosophy, and it’s something I started doing.”
To date, she has helped more than 300 clients from all over the world.
All of these experiences have given Kagarice a clear understanding about her philosophy on teaching.
“It’s not about you the teacher, it’s about the students. That’s Montessori — the students show you the way,” she said. “It’s one of the difficult aspects of being a teacher. You have to give your heart and soul without ever wanting them to say thank you.”
While Kagarice may cringe when a student does say thank you, after so many years of service, it shouldn’t be unexpected.