Madrid-Waddington band teacher recognized nationally with Citation of Excellence

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Jun. 5—MADRID — It was music to Jill Roberts' ears when she learned that she had been recognized by the National Band Association with the organization's Citation of Excellence.

The middle and high school band teacher at Madrid-Waddington Central School said she learned of the national honor while participating in a St. Lawrence County Music Educator's meeting via Zoom and had no idea she had been nominated.

"There was a representative from the National Band Association that hopped on to our meeting. It was mailed to me after that," Ms. Roberts said.

According to the National Band Association's website, the Citation of Excellence is awarded to outstanding concert band directors whose ensembles have a history of a distinguished level of accomplishment, or to those individuals who have made significant contributions to the field of bands and band music.

Ms. Roberts is a graduate of Parishville-Hopkinton Central School and the Crane School of Music.

"I am a 1990 Crane graduate and started teaching the same year. So I've been doing this since the early '90s," she said.

In addition, Ms. Roberts is a woodwind instructor at St. Lawrence University and Region 5 representative for the New York Band Directors Association.

Outside of school, she also performs with local music groups.

"I am clarinet — guest principal and also second —with the Orchestra of Northern New York and with the Northern Symphonic Winds Ensemble. I also play principal clarinet with the Potsdam Community Band," she said.

She has been at Madrid-Waddington for eight years, teaching band in grades five through 12, usually encompassing five ensembles.

"This year, I also taught general music for grades three, four and five while we were searching for an elementary music teacher," she said.

Like other teachers, she has had to adapt to a new way of teaching during the pandemic. While she's been able to offer individual instruction for students, getting a group of musicians together and staying within the COVID-19 guidelines has been a challenge.

"Kids learn their instrument at the individual level and then the band part is where they all play together. It has been very challenging in ways you can't even imagine. The very essence of what a band is is playing together. When you sit down and try to connect over the computer, the technology does not work to do that in a live setting, so the whole essence of band has to be completely rethought," she said.

Because of the restrictions, Ms. Roberts said she has changed from teaching big band works to individual, independent smaller groups. This year, she has three subsections — a progression ensemble, woodwind group and brass group. Some students are fully remote, and others are in the school five days a week, with no remote day included in their studies.

"I have anywhere from eight or nine kids down in my room. It's all determined by what will fit in the space you have. I have seventh- and eight-graders in the auditorium and they're sitting 12 feet apart. The auditorium holds 850 people and we fill the auditorium, so we just do the best that we can," she said.

The junior high and high school schedule doesn't work as it has in the past because of the need to keep students separated by 12 feet.

"The schedule is definitely different, like I don't see them every day. I don't even see them every other day like normal. I would see them once a cycle now because of the social distancing requirements. We just don't fit anywhere. It's a really nice room, but it's not very big as far as band rooms go. So the time is definitely less. You start to think outside the box and keep kids playing because that's the most important thing. I'm just trying to keep everything positive and keep them playing any way I can," she said.

Also because of the restrictions, Ms. Roberts said they've performed in-house and have done some recordings, "but we haven't done any kind of official performances or concerts at all. We're working toward those before school gets over. We're hoping to make it happen before school is completely out in the spring."

The problem with official performances is that not only do they have to stay within the COVID-19 guidelines with the audience, but also with the student performers.

"You still have to manage the players' distancing and all of the safety measures that they need. You also have to be aware of any copyright issues when you do streaming or recording. I actually arrange and write a lot of the music that we are playing. I have written about a dozen pieces for young bands and arranged and transcribed countless others. This year is no exception. It is definitely helpful when the groupings are not standardized like usual," she said.

Ms. Roberts said that, with the pandemic still around, the Music Department and entire school staff have worked together to generate a positive and safe climate for the students.

"I feel very fortunate to teach in Madrid-Waddington with such a supportive faculty and great students," she said.