Andy Davis says goodbye to music education

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BRATTLEBORO — Andy Davis is at the end of an era.

The beloved music teacher retires this semester. During his time teaching, he's left a big legacy. The Connecticut Valley District Music Festival Association even honored him as their Music Educator of the Year Music Educator of the Year.

Steve Rice the music department head for Brattleboro Union High School nominated Davis.

"Andy is an outstanding educator and musician. He creates a powerful sense of community in his classroom and choruses," he wrote in his nomination. "He is an outstanding colleague who mentors younger teachers and seeks to find opportunity in every new initiative."

Davis has been teaching for 32 years. In the 1970s he "escaped" to Vermont as a folk musician who played the banjo. He lived in a cabin in the woods and worked on blacksmithing and woodworking. It was the dream, he said, for most city kids. Davis wasn't really the college type until he joined SIT's "World Issues" program. To make money, Davis found himself subbing and eventually teaching music part-time at Dover Elementary. Most music teacher jobs are part-time, he said. So he began teaching at Guilford and the former Canal Street School. At this time, Davis wasn't certified as a teacher. It was a few years later when a principal finally called him urging for him to get a teaching certificate.

Davis said he feels grateful to have been a teacher.

"Every child is a musician," he said. "The vast majority want to drum, they want to echo." Davis chose to stay as an elementary teacher because elementary music education is more inclusive. Once children get to high school, he said, they've figured out whether they're serious about music. Young children are still happy to dance and sing and play music regardless of their skill level.

Davis feels especially grateful to have been a music teacher in Vermont. The Vermont arts and music curriculum, he said, gives teachers a lot of freedom. "There's a huge amount of trust," he said. "Windham County, in particular, has a very strong commitment to the arts."

Davis finds himself singing about nature with younger children, while older children prefer pop songs and musicals.

Dancing also became a big part of Davis' curriculum. He's a big fan of contra dance. He works at the New England Dancing Masters where he plays music and calls for contra dances. Some students are, he said, "dancephobic." The vast majority, though, he said, have no trouble letting loose and dancing. There is also an All School Sing — a day where everyone in the school has a sing-along assembly — Davis enjoys participating in every week with his students.

Davis also finds himself talking about history with children. He talks about the history of songs and why they were sung. He explores different cultures of music like that of Greece, Israel or Africa. He also finds himself delving into the science of music. He periodically makes instruments with students.

"Our music is connected to us and used in many different ways," he said.

He described retiring as being bittersweet. It's especially hard, he said, when younger students tell him, "I don't want you to retire."

It's the sort of job that he's been able to build a community with. In his classroom, children of former students will pop up. He's able to watch his students grow up and keep in touch with them and their families.

He feels satisfied with his time as a teacher. "I really did this job," he said.

He's retiring, he said, because he's been working too hard. "I'm getting frayed," he said. It's time, he said, for a younger person to take up his mantle, "and have all the fun I've had."

It's the sort of job you learn by doing, he said.

He recommends being a music teacher to anyone "looking for an interesting job ... It's a joyful job," he said. Harmony Birch can be reached at hbirch@reformer.com, at @Birchharmony on Twitter and 802-254-2311, Ext. 153.




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