As the director of Off Kilter and the Maryville College Concert Choir, Stacey Wilner is known to students for her upbeat personality and vibrant passion for music.
Although she calls herself a “learned extrovert,” Wilner’s vitality and ability to reach out into the communities of Maryville and Knoxville has earned the choral department an outstanding reputation. She has brought joy to the music department and all of Maryville with her kind spirit and talented conducting skills.
Her love of music began in elementary school, in her hometown of St. Albans, W.Va.
“I just loved singing, and in school—it was much better than math!” Wilner said, laughing.
She said that her music teacher in school always made her sing loudly to encourage the more shy students.
“I was what you called a very brave singer,” Wilner said. “My favorite song to sing was ‘Dan Goto.’”
In school she not only participated in music but also had a great interest in theater and art.
“I did more art in high school than music,” she said. “I also was in quite a few plays.”
Wilner attended Concord University in West Virginia, earning a bachelor’s degree in music. Her first year as an undergraduate, she was still deciding between majoring in music, art or theatre.
“I just have such a great interest in all of the fine arts,” she said.
Wilner said that her advisor encouraged her to pursue music education, telling Wilner she had a talent for it.
After she graduated, Wilner did not go straight to graduate school or teaching.
“After school, I was just wondering, ‘What have done majoring in music?’ Then my father said, ‘It’s time to get a job!’”
Her first job was teaching seven- to twelve-year-olds music in elementary school.
“After that, I decided I wanted to embrace my path in music, so I made the step in going to graduate school.”
Wilner went on to earn her master’s degree in music education from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. After graduating from UT in 1987, she taught at Pelissippi State Community College for six years.
“I took a year off after that to take some time for myself,” she said. “I just wasn’t sure about music then. So I spent the year working at a barn, shoveling horse manure.
“When I received the call from Professor Bonham [a former MC music professor] about the job opening at MC, it just felt right.”
Wilner said that she values the quality of community connection here at MC, and the great relationship between students and alumni, as well as the church values.
“All of these things give more depth to teaching,” she said.
Wilner directs the MC Concert Choir as well Off Kilter. She has taught a variety of courses over the years at MC, including music history, conducting and freshman seminar.
She said that her favorite class to teach is Concert Choir because the “energy and size provide a unique and varieties of sound.”
“My favorite thing about teaching is that I love watching students grow personally and academically,” Wilner said. “I believe that music helps them develop life skills and they benefit overall from it.”
When asked what her favorite aspect of performing was, she replied enthusiastically.
“There are little magical moments when you perform,” she said. “There’s an aesthetic feeling when you connect with the meaning of the piece. It’s like connecting to the divine.
“It’s almost like a drug,” she laughed. “You feel greater than yourself.”
Wilner will be accompanying the concert choir to Scotland next year, which she is “very excited” about.
She is no stranger to traveling abroad, however, having been to Scotland with the choir before and having just ventured to Italy over the summer with her husband, Kevin.
Wilner also has two daughters, Luda and Lily, who are 14 and 15. They were both adopted from Kazakhstan, Luda in 2005 and Lily in 2007.
“It took about a year to adopt each girl,” Wilner said. “But, oh, isn’t it worth it!”
She said that she knew she wanted to adopt ever since she saw the movie “Oliver” when she was 10 years old. Her favorite book is also “Oliver Twist.”
“When I saw that movie, I knew I could [adopt children]. Now I have, and I love my daughters so much.”
When she is not teaching, she enjoys riding horses and playing with her five dogs. She and her daughters frequently volunteer at the Blount County Humane Society and have rescued two dogs within this month alone.
Wilner’s love for her daughters and for music is evident in everything she does. Her sweet spirit and great talent for music have won the hearts of all of the music department and choir members, as well as many in the MC community.