Band teacher Rob Speers, a longtime fixture at Harry Ainlay High School, in Edmonton, travelled to Chicago in December to accept a prestigious award from the John Philip Sousa Foundation.
The Legion of Honor Award recognizes band directors who have maintained school concert band programs of excellent musical quality for a period of at least 20 years and who have held important positions of leadership in their professional organizations. Band directors are inducted into the Legion of Honor at the John Philip Sousa Foundation annual reception, held in Chicago each December during the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic. Directors also receive a plaque and are featured in an issue of Bandworld magazine.
Q. What was your reaction to receiving this award? What was the response of your students and fellow teachers?
A. I was honoured to receive the nomination, let alone the actual award. While I was in Chicago receiving the award, it was announced to the staff and students at my school, and I received many notes of congratulations from staff and students alike. Many of my colleagues from throughout North America also sent congratulations and best wishes.
Q. What inspired you to become a music teacher?
A. As a young musician in school and community bands, I always had the dream of being a school music teacher. I was fortunate to grow up at a time when music was widely supported in public education and many fine music educators were willing to share their knowledge and expertise. I believe I became a music educator because of that connection and the love of music. I also believe that it is our role as music teachers to instill that love of music and to inspire the next generation of musicians.
Q. What keeps you motivated?
A. The energy and commitment that my students bring to the classroom each day motivates me to do the best job that I can. I am a strong believer in the beauty and passion of music, and I attempt to instill that same passion in every musician in my ensembles. I expect my students to demonstrate self-discipline, hard work and dedication. I am passionate about music, and that passion is contagious when students experience the heights that music can create.
Q. What obstacles or challenges do you face as a music teacher?
A. As music educators we get to use the wonderful medium of music as our craft for teaching. We want all of our students to resonate with and appreciate music as a lifelong pursuit. Along with sharing this passion with our students, we must be able to educate parents, administrators, school board members and politicians about what music can do to develop the whole child.
Music is intrinsic in every individual; it is connected to the human spirit and the imaginative mind. The study of music actively engages students in the creative process, which can then be used in every facet of their lives. Music makes life richer and fuller for those who experience it.
Q. What has been your greatest reward as a teacher?
A. One of the most gratifying rewards in any teacher’s life is seeing that you have made a difference in a student’s life. It amazes me that students still remember their time in the music program at Harry Ainlay so many years after they have graduated.
A few years ago the Harry Ainlay Music Parents Association set up a music education advocacy site on their web page and gave people the opportunity to respond with their thoughts. At the completion of this project they presented me with a binder full of responses of support and gratitude for the benefits that music has brought to people’s lives. Professionals from all walks of life, including musicians, educators, doctors, lawyers, engineers and entrepreneurs, were grateful for the musical skills and life skills that they developed as members of a musical ensemble.
In pursuit of excellence they were pushed beyond their self-imposed limits to heights they never expected to achieve. I believe it is this journey that formed their thirst for lifelong learning and their success in their chosen career paths. I am thrilled to have played a small part in shaping their lives. ❚