Music News & Reviews

Rich Copley: Music teachers make a lifelong impact

Sarah Payne, director of orchestras at Bryan Station Middle School, has built a community around music at the school.
Sarah Payne, director of orchestras at Bryan Station Middle School, has built a community around music at the school.

The news came the way a lot of news does these days, via Facebook.

It was a photo of our son and a few dozen friends up at Kings Island with some new hardware: trophies, including one for best orchestra, from a competition at the theme park.

Not to sound cocky, because clearly none of this was my doing, but this had sort of become expected since Ms. Payne came to Bryan Station Middle School.

This column isn't about winning awards, since that is not what people make music for. And it's not about saying our kid's orchestra director is the best music teacher ever, because I have no way of knowing that, if it can be quantified. But have no doubt: Sarah Payne is awesome.

What I know, as the school year closes and summer sets in, is we have spent the last two years watching what a truly great music educator can do for her or his students.

The first few weeks Ms. Payne directed the orchestra at Bryan Station Middle School, I was hearing some bad stuff: she was strict, she was exacting, she wasn't playing favorites.

This was going to be good, I thought. Art is fun, but it also requires discipline, and that's what the new orchestra teacher was invoking.

As parents, we were seeing something else: a teacher who was reaching out to us, creating community. The Bryan Station Orchestra had a web page. A web page for a middle school orchestra?! We were getting emails, and we knew what was going on. A community was being created, a community around music.

And soon, we were starting to see the payoff: concerts that wowed us, achievements like numerous students winning scads of seats at Fayette County honors orchestra, honors like being invited to play at the Kentucky Music Educators Association Conference — without a doubt, the best day I've taken off work in years — and most of all, a genuine enthusiasm for music.

A community and fellowship formed around music with these kids. They relished playing together, reveled in each other's successes and their collective successes, and excelled along the way.

Maybe the best statement of community came the same day as that Kings Island triumph when, after an exhausting day at the park, the orchestra's chamber ensemble rallied to go play at the Bat Mitzvah party for one of its members.

That's more than a love of music. That's community built around music.

It's beautiful. And it's something I know the kids in my son's class will take with them from Bryan Station Middle and treasure for the rest of their lives.

If you have a rising sixth grader in Bryan Station Middle School Orchestra, you are so lucky.

But as I said, this isn't just to say Sarah Payne is an awesome music teacher. There are many other kids around Central Kentucky who have great music teachers, equally fired by the magic combination of joy and discipline with which their teachers have infused them. Kids who are really into music probably have several, including private teachers, church music directors, outside ensemble directors and others.

It's something rising music teachers holding newly printed diplomas should appreciate: you have the potential to change lives and set courses. I don't know how many kids from the BSMS orchestra will go on to music careers. Probably not many. But they will have the music they made in school, and may continue to make in adulthood. I was impressed visiting the Lexington Community Orchestra this year at how many music educators and accomplished after-hours musicians populated that ensemble.

Music is a lifelong gift that can keep on giving, and it's the music teachers that can bestow it.

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