Music is not only a sound — it’s a way to evoke and express emotion. It helps with memory, language and attention and even has the power to heal. It’s an important aspect of history and culture, as the story of music begins with the story of human existence.
For alumna Mary-Margaret Soknich (Meyer) '10, music unfolded as more than an art form; it emerged as a pathway to both family and a fulfilling career.
Soknich grew up listening to music with her parents, as they both were involved in playing music at church and often sang their favorite tunes around the house.
“It’s hard for me to remember a time when I wasn’t interested in music,” she said. “When I was four, I came home from my aunt’s wedding and started playing the bridal march on this tiny toy piano. My mom was shocked — I never had piano lessons.”
She began taking piano lessons at the age of five and eventually took up the flute and French horn when she joined high school marching band.
“I always told people I didn’t want to be a musician when I grew up,” she laughed. “I wanted to be an author or an English teacher. But then high school happened, and I made all-state band. That made me decide I want to [be in music] forever.”
Then, during Soknich's junior year of high school, a tragic event unfolded in her life — her mother passed away.
“I was kind of just coasting through senior year,” she said. “Going to band was the only thing that kept me going during that time of grief. It was a source of constant joy and inspiration, and my friends in band really helped me to stay afloat.”
The loss of her mother also added an unexpected delay in her college plans. However, fate intervened when a professor spoke to her class about Texas Wesleyan. Soknich decided to audition for two colleges, but it was her audition at TXWES that left an indelible impression.
“When I walked out of my audition with Texas Wesleyan, I just knew it was the place,” she smiled. “I really wanted to do composition, music education and be in band and choir — and they said I could do it all.
“If I went to a bigger school, I would have had a cookie cutter degree and would get lost in the mix. With Texas Wesleyan being smaller, I could get a professor's attention to try a new idea or help solve a problem.”
Soknich participated in voice, piano, conducting, arranging and French horn lessons. She also joined Texas Wesleyan’s band and choir, and even tacked on performances with the Fort Worth Chorale, the Greater Fort Worth Community Band and jazz band.
“Anything they offered, I wanted to try,” she laughed. “I think that really made me a master of none of them but helped me have a well-rounded experience. Being in all of that prepared me to teach.”
After graduating from Texas Wesleyan with her bachelor's in music education, Soknich went back to her high school alma mater, Nolan Catholic High School, as a piano accompanist and eventually became the director of music.
“It was really meaningful to go back, because when I was in band, I always said I just wanted to spend all day in the musical hall and get paid for it,” she said.
Soknich's journey had come full circle when she stood before her own classroom, paying forward the gift of music she had received as a teenager seeking solace in her high school band room. She watched her program flourish, witnessing her students win contests and grow not only as musicians but as individuals.
Her impact extended beyond the notes on sheet music, touching the hearts and souls of her students as she provides them with the same experience she had after her mother passed away — a family to fall back on during hard times.
“I don’t think it was until I started college that I realized why I wanted to be a high school music teacher,” she said. “I chose this career because music has always been a part of my life, but I also recognized how my high school band class offered me a refuge during the hardest time in my life. My ‘why’ as a teacher is to offer that refuge and community to the next generation of students — and make amazing music, too!”
After a few years of teaching, Soknich got her Master of Music Education from the University of North Texas. And after nine years at Nolan, she was offered a job at I.M. Terrell High School in Fort Worth ISD.
“I.M. Terrell is a really unique school because it’s a school of choice — we have specialized programs in visual performing arts and STEM. So not only is our academy offering a college preparatory education, but it’s also focusing on higher level of artistic training,” she said.
Soknich said she’s been able to connect with the Fort Worth Opera to have opera singers work with her students. The University of North Texas has graduate students help students in their vocal jazz band. And Soknich is also having her students perform alongside the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra at their holiday concert in Bass Hall later this year.
However, music is more than just her career — it’s her passion. Soknich is the associate conductor of the Voices of Fort Worth, is the small school region coordinator for the Texas Music Educator Association and has performed for several churches.
Despite her success, Soknich never forgot her roots at Texas Wesleyan. The University's music department remained a cherished part of her life.
“Everybody in Texas Wesleyan’s music department is like family to me, even if they’ve retired or moved on. I feel like I can call upon them for anything I need,” she said. “And I still feel like Martin Hall is my home. Even after all these years, it really feels like I never left.”
Soknich has come a long way from the little girl who played the bridal march on a toy piano. Through her career as an educator and her passion as a musician, she has woven her own unique melody into the lives of students and musicians in Fort Worth, reminding us that music does more than delight your ears — it creates community.