Nevi Zerkle, a musician and conductor, is just over a month away from starting student teaching amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

Zerkle graduated with a master’s degree in music education with distinction at the University of New Mexico in the summer of 2020.

Zerkle is currently finishing their last batch of music education classes that will allow them to move on to student teaching in January, where they will be educating elementary, middle and high school levels in Iowa.

Zerkle explored different subjects in their undergraduate career, from philosophy to ethnomusicology to conducting, but eventually settled in as a music educator when they decided to go to UNM.

“I think my professors knew before I did that I was going to be a band director,” Zerkle said with a laugh.

Professor Eric Rombach-Kendall, Zerkle’s conducting professor, said Zerkle is “the real deal” and has a variety of possibilities open in their future.

“It was the conducting experience that made me remember that I loved working with students again,” Zerkle said. “No matter what I do as a musician, students are going to be one of my primary focuses, whether it’s as a teacher of music history or in a classroom with a bunch of band kids who’ve never touched a horn before.”

Zerkle was able to balance all of their different passions at UNM, which they demonstrated after participating and presenting in the musicology symposium with professor Ana Alonso-Minutti.

Zerkle said being surrounded by so many amazing musicians at UNM was both “wonderful and terrifying all at once” and helped them learn it’s okay to not be the best in the room and instead focus on improving.

Jennifer Williams, Zerkle’s former conductor and close friend, said Zerkle “always (conducted) with grace and humor and a smile.”

Zerkle was a graduate assistant for Rombach-Kendall and developed a close relationship with him.

“Nevi is extremely smart, very curious and 100% reliable — (they are) a very good musician and just would do anything that you need to get done,” Rombach-Kendall said.

Williams also attested to the passionate and authentic person that Zerkle has grown to be.

“Nevi is a tremendous young (person) who has just this great drive and initiative and desire to be good at whatever (they do),” Williams said. “(They are) just an all-around genuine person.”

Through conducting classes with Rombach-Kendall, Zerkle learned about the importance of balancing education with one’s own health.

“I can’t simultaneously sit in the practice room 24/7 on my trombone and do all the conducting things and just hammer away only at music all the time,” Zerkle said. “I have to take care of my body and myself and be holistically healthy.”

The pandemic was a big setback for Zerkle emotionally, and losing the chance to perform their graduate recital at the end of their degree was difficult to cope with.

“I remember being very, very disheartened when I found I wouldn’t be able to do the capstone of my degree,” Zerkle said. “Even after my oral (exams) and graduating with distinction, I didn’t feel like I had really earned the degree because I hadn’t done the final project that goes with it. It just didn’t feel right.”

However, the pandemic also showed Zerkle just the amount of friends that supported them, as many peers and coworkers reached out virtually.

“It was a nice discovery to find out that the community was actually there when all this hard stuff had just happened and we were all feeling down but could still come together,” Zerkle said.

With an unpredictable future ahead of them, Zerkle hopes to finally get the band director job that they have been chasing for six years and delve into their passions of music and education.

Megan Gleason is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @fabflutist2716