Music & Arts 2016 Music Educator of the Year Interview with Amy Delorge

Each December, Music & Arts honors a music educator with the Music Educator of the Year Award– an award reserved for an educator who shows outstanding achievement in music education. After looking through Amy Delorge’s nominations, references, and resume, it was clear we found our winner. Renier Fee, Marketing Director at Music & Arts, had the opportunity to interview Mrs. Delorge and learn more about her contributions to music education.

Welcome and congratulations on being named the Music & Arts 2016 Music Educator of the Year.  It’s an honor to have you on The Vault!

Thank you very much.  This is a true honor!  This experience is so exciting and is such an incredible opportunity to validate the hard work and  journey I have been on so far.  There are have been so many experiences and wonderful people that I have been privileged to learn from throughout my life.  Thank you so much for this distinction.

I believe the clarinet was your first instrument.  Tell me how you first came across it and what you are currently playing on.  How did the clarinet lead you to your career in music education?

When I was in the fifth grade there was a demonstration of each of the instruments.  After hearing that I could join our school band and learn to play an instrument, I decided I wanted to play the flute.  My best friend also chose the flute and let me try to play hers.  Since I was unable to make a sound or any play any notes on my first (uninstructed) attempt at age 11, I decided immediately that the flute was not for me!

My dad who was very encouraging of me joining the band, suggested the clarinet because he enjoyed Benny Goodman and music from the Swing Era.  Luckily, I was able to produce a sound on my first try without help and I agreed that clarinet was it.

I played in my school bands from grade 5 through high school in Manchester, New Hampshire.  I also was a clarinetist in the Explorer Music Post 934, a wind ensemble created to educate high school age musicians in wind literature, and leadership skills, sponsored by, Ted Heberts Music Mart (now Music & Arts).  Freshman year of high school I began taking private clarinet lessons. I  found my purpose at age 14 in the Explorers. Here I became a serious clarinetist, practicing daily and began striving to become a musician.  I auditioned for NH All State and was euphoric when I found out that I actually made it.  That year I received my current Buffet R13 clarinet. This is one of the very best memories of my childhood!  I was overjoyed to have a professional clarinet!

Throughout high school I continued to audition for additional opportunities including the NH All State Band, the All-New England Band and was able to attend summer music camps.  Junior year I attended a six-week long summer music camp through the Boston Conservatory of Music which gave me the opportunity to play the A clarinet in the orchestra. It was that summer that I decided I would like to become a band director and pursue music education in college.

Senior year of high school I auditioned for UMASS Amherst, to study music education.  I earned the Chancellor’s Talent Award, a full four year tuition scholarship and spent four incredible years studying music education at UMASS.  I played the clarinet in the Symphonic Band and Wind Ensembles throughout my years at UMASS.  Today I continue to play on my Buffet R13, it’s a beautiful instrument!  I play with my students at the Biddeford Middle School and occasionally in alumni bands and chamber groups in my community.

Over your 20+ years of teaching, how has your music philosophy and curriculum evolved?

My curriculum and philosophy of music education has always centered around quality literature as a result of my wonderful experiences in the Explorer Music Post and the influence of my UMASS band director, Bill Rowell.  I was so fortunate to learn that quality music is the cornerstone of a strong music education.  In my (inexperienced idealistic) early years of teaching  I wanted to achieve creating award winning bands.  I took my ensembles to state and regional competitions.  We did well.  I attended the then MENC National Conferences and Midwest and dreamed about directing bands that were talented enough to perform there.

In 1995 after three years of teaching band in Claremont, New Hampshire, I moved to Biddeford, Maine, to teach at the middle school.  At the time, Thomas Lizotte was the Biddeford High School Band Director and my mentor.   Tom continues to be a good friend, inspire and share his guidance today!  Between 2000-2002, I got married, witnessed 9/11 with the world and had gave birth to my son Michael.  I began to more deeply understand the relationships that I am privileged to build with students are more than just great literature.   To be successful as a band director I would need to continually build relationships with students, parents, colleagues and community members through the vehicle of music education.

I believe passionately that every child can be successful in my band room. I welcome every child into the Band Program. My expectations are still high, I still program quality literature but I now balance the process versus the product and can reach many more students with something more long lasting and meaningful. Calling parents and guardians, communicating with guidance counselors, social workers, classroom teachers and administration to support students is a worthwhile and time consuming endeavor but investing in the whole child helps nurture them for a supported, successful path at the Biddeford Middle School and more importantly in their world.

Your letters of recommendation all called out the personal time and resources you invest in music education.  You reach out to the community for cash donations to send kids to music camps.  You find instruments to get into the hands of underprivileged youth.  Where does your motivation come from?

Part of my motivation comes from the love and support I had from my parents growing up.  I was very fortunate to have parents that attended every concert, drove me to each rehearsal, and always enabled me to pursue my dreams.  My Mom always said “You can do anything you want if you’re willing to work for it.”  I believe intensely with all of my heart, that music education is extremely valuable. I think anyone can learn to play an instrument if they are willing to practice  and persevere.  I want to share this value with students in hopes of broadening their horizons.  My school administration does a great job of supporting me to budget some needed instruments for our school every year, but it’s not possible for every student that wants to play to have an instrument paid for by the school department.

I know we have people and businesses in our community that are willing to help further education.  I thought it was worth taking the extra time to send out letters to ask them to donate money to help support my students.  I am so proud to send students to music camps each year and they come back with stories about new friendships, good times, and expand their world attending  an overnight camp with professional musicians.  The students are so proud and excited to earn a scholarship or to have an instrument donated to the Biddeford Middle School.  They see that what they’re learning is valued.  I want students to know that there is a profound value in being in the band.

My motivation is to provide experiences beyond the classroom and expand opportunities.  I can’t achieve everything I want to within the school day/school year alone.  Scholarships help me bridge that into something more.  It is so exciting to help students facilitate these experiences into the band program.  Over the years with community support I’ve commissioned a work by composer Andrew Boysen, brought in professional musicians for master classes, sent students to music camps annually, and received cash donations to supplement our instrument inventory.  I am very grateful to the businesses that support our band program.

Student recruitment is a tricky art but you have managed to increase band participation from 45 to 130 students, from student body of 550.  That is a significant participation rate!  For all of our music educator readership who want to grow their own music programs, can you share your secret sauce?

There are a number of factors that have helped grow our program and retain students.  When I began in 1995 the middle school band was small and it had been some time since it was something people were proud of.  I worked hard to shift the quality, I held fast to my ideals and I lost some students along the way.  Sometimes it’s “subtraction by addition” and other times it is the school of hard knocks, making mistakes and learning from them.  I am always learning.

I have learned that it’s better to be flexible and compromise for many situations, in my first years I didn’t bend nearly as well.  I have learned that it’s important to build relationships not just with students but with parents, guidance counselors, social workers, administrators and the teachers in my district.  We all want what’s best for students but if we don’t take the extra time to communicate, our own agendas can cloud the collaborative process.  I often make phone calls and answer emails for many hours after school.

There are added responsibilities I take on before and after school hours like teaching a beginner, attending the John Philip Sousa Music Festival over April vacation with students, rehearsing extra sectionals, organizing and teaching festival music, hosting festivals, and often just being available when students ask me for help with their music or to talk with them about their life.  Every one of these initiatives adds to the program’s retention.

How does your Music & Arts Educational Representative, Ken Bart, help you with your classroom needs, recruitment and repairs?

First of all Ken Bart is a wonderful human being.  He is kind, reliable and generous. I rely on Ken to support my band in so many ways!  Ken visits my classroom once a week which is an incredible service unto itself.  Many of my students and their families don’t have the resources to travel forty minutes north west to the store in West Falmouth, so this weekly service visit is really outstanding.   I am able to purchase all of the method books students need, reeds, valve oil, drum sticks & mallets, etc as though I have a store at school for students.

Ken is so generous; I had a student who was surviving domestic violence whose instrument needed a repair which was unaffordable for the family.  Ken personally did the repair himself at no cost.   The student and  mother were overjoyed. Ken often will help me tweak a repair until funds can be found to bring an instrument into the shop. This is not a one time thing for Ken; he volunteers his time and talent each year at our District level music festival on a Saturday to be available for emergency repairs.

Ken is able to suggest equipment to me that meets the needs of my band and works within the budget.  When I’m looking for information about method books, accessories or instruments he is always happy to help me find what I need for the program.  He regularly goes the distance to support the Biddeford Middle School Music Department.

Music & Arts allows me to borrow instruments to use for teaching  so I am able to model quality sound and technique playing with my students.  My school system is able to purchase new instruments with no shipping costs and all of its sheet music at a 20% off discount which saves the school department a great deal.  The rent-to-own program is fantastic; I feel confident students will have a quality instrument to learn on and I don’t have any fears about families purchasing inferior quality instruments that cannot be serviced down the road, are unplayable or impossible to tune as band directors now deal with in the online era.  When families are able to rent-to-own, they are also able to access the (LDR) so students never have to sit in a band class without an instrument; this is a big factor in recruitment.  Students are able to continue playing, practicing and learning on their loaner instrument while their instrument is receiving quality repairs.  Retention is greatly impacted if students can’t play during classes and rehearsals they become disinterested.  Music & Arts helps me prevent that situation from ever occurring.

The variety of opportunities for students and their families to move into step up instruments or intermediate level accessories is terrific too.  Music & Arts has mouthpiece kits that have been great for us.  Sometimes a family isn’t ready or can’t afford a step up instrument but I am able to encourage them to consider a new mouthpiece which is an improvement towards a student’s development.  I am thankful for the many occasions that Ken Bart and Music and Arts does everything they can to support the Band Program at the Biddeford Middle School.  I don’t know anyone today who has customer service like Ken Bart and Music & Arts.

Throughout your tenure, you’ve won many awards, such as 1st place in “Music in the Parks” for several years, hosted band events, and performed in a variety of high-profile concerts, like a jazz band performance for former President Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich in 1995.  And now Music & Arts 2016 Music Educator of the Year!  Lots of reasons to be proud of such a successful career.  Is there one crowning achievement you are most proud of?

I am proud of each of those achievements. Honestly the achievement I am most proud of is my son, Michael.  He is a fourteen year old high school freshmen who plays saxophone in Jazz Ensemble and Combo 1 Band.  He also sings Bass in the auditioned group the Chamber Singers. I had the privilege of teaching my son in the band in grades 6-8.  As Michael’s teacher I saw so many wonderful things about him while I had him in my own classroom.  Michael is a talented young man in music, academics, athletics and is an active Boy Scout within a year of earning his Eagle Scout ranking.  Michael is a very kind, funny and warm person and he is a natural leader.  Without a doubt, Michael is my greatest achievement.

What advice do you have for the first year student musician?  What advice do you have for the first year music educator?

The best advice I have to offer for both first year student musician and first year music educator is to be patient with yourself and persevere.  Both student and teacher need encouragement to be patient and taper their immediate expectations; music education is a process.  It takes time to learn how to produce a great sound, read music, understand and execute rhythm, articulation, phrasing and dynamics.  Find a person or a recording you want to sound like, listen to them.  Ask how they do that.  Practice, practice, and practice.

The same can be said of building a program.  Always keep learning. New music educators should surround themselves with caring, knowledgeable people they can talk to for understanding, advice and inspiration regularly to act as mentors.  I still rely on my colleagues, both music and non-music educators, and mentors for advice, sounding boards and inspiration.  For both the first year student musician and first year educator, find a model of something you aspire to and keep it in mind.  What does it look like, feel like, and sound like?  Find recordings, live concerts and absorb it however you can.  Can you visit for a day and observe?  Can you bring a teacher or musician into your program that inspires you and your students?  Don’t let your fears or insecurities prevent you from trying something new or bringing a professional in.  Don’t let finances stand in the way of asking a professional to come in.

Can you answer the same question for first year music administrators?

First, I would like to say that I don’t have a degree in administration and I know that our administrators wear many hats throughout their schools.  I have a lot of respect for my administrators, they’re kind, caring people with a great deal of knowledge.  The suggestions I might offer include: Work with your music department faculty to find common goals.  Where are they doing well?  Assess the ability to transition from one school/grade level to the next in band/chorus.  How are your teachers feeling about the newest student’s preparation for the new building.  Work with your team to develop strategies and events that benefit and strengthen cohesion and student retention.  Can you showcase multiple schools together for an All City Music In Our Schools Concert, a Step Up Day, establish mentors in the upper grades for the younger students, perform joint concerts, have the older students perform for the younger students?  What ways can you find to take what is already going well in your school department and use that to further your teachers goals and strengthen your music department?

Ask how your school’s schedule supports/hinders the music department.   Band and Chorus are the only courses I know of that need access to multiple grade levels simultaneously.  We often need administrative support.  Advocate passionately with parents and other school department officials to support our programs.  Publicize and praise accomplishments often of your faculty and students.  Use social media to Tweet and share developments, updates and gains in your school departments music program. Band is such an outstanding way to showcase your school in a positive light!

I have to ask, what is a “Golden Stand Of Awesomeness” award and how do I win one?

The Golden Stand of Awesomeness is a regular music stand that I coated in primer and many layers of gold glitter spray paint.  It is awarded sometimes daily, during class for positive contributions in class.  I like to find ways of saying “Great job!” often for things that are not musical.  This is a fun way to recognize a student for being kind, helpful, great listening, perseverance, or for having a lightbulb moment. It’s another way of making students feel special, acknowledged and that their good deeds are important in making the band an awesome class to be enrolled in.

What is next for Amy Delorge in 2017?

I am beginning to focus on broadening our ability to be compassionate and understanding of things we may not be familiar with through our music.  This spring my students will learn about the Japanese Internment Camps through some of the literature we play. Additionally we will visit with Yosh Golden, who was born in Manzanar and lived the first three years of her life as a prisoner with her family. I cannot think of a more meaningful way to teach music than through its history, allowing students to personally hear how fear can create prejudice and hate. This can only be counterbalanced with education, kindness and compassion. I plan to enlarge this unit of social justice each year with a different focus.  Some of the future areas I hope to cover are music of Muslims, African-Americans, Latin-Americans, women and Native Americans.



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