Chris Rivers, longtime head of the renowned music department at Harwood Union Middle/High School, is stepping down this year. Brian Boyes will step into his role. The Valley Reporter spoke to Rivers about his career at Harwood. This is the first of a two-part series of that interview.
VR: Tell me about your teaching career at Harwood.
CR: This is my 33rd year. Right after graduate school, I moved back to Vermont and wanted to raise my family back here in this state where I grew up. I took the job in the summer of 1990. Wow. Seems like a different life.
VR: Where did you grow up?
CR: I grew up in South Burlington. I live in Burlington now. But I raised my family in Waterbury. My kids are grown up and elsewhere, but they all went to school here and I had all my kids in class. So that was kind of a fun experience, at least for me, anyway.
VR: What is your musical and educational background?
CR: I'm a trumpet player, first and foremost. I went to the Crane School of Music in Potsdam, New York, the SUNY school. Right after that, I went to Florida State for graduate school and then started here the very next fall.
VR: What did you study in graduate school?
CR: Music education. I started out as a performance major in graduate school, I was thinking that I would follow that path. And I discovered after that first year of grad school, that I was destined to be in front of kids, it was kind of what I was really natural doing and had a great love of doing. I just needed to kind of find that out.
VR: What is your role at Harwood?
CR: (Music) department head, and I teach the sevent- grade band and the eighth-grade band and high school band, music theory. I taught a history of rock and roll class. I do that online as well for the online consortium (Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative).
VR: The program at Harwood has such an amazing reputation. What is your hope that happens after you leave? What would you like to see the program continue to do or grow to do?
CR: We're really excited to have in place already an amazing educator who's coming from the Cabot School. His name is Brian Boyes. Brian has accepted the position to take Harwood to Harvard music 2.0. His colleague, my present colleague, Molly Clark, is the vocal teacher. She's in her second year here. So Molly and Brian will make the next team and so my hope is that the program continues to grow and recover from COVID. Like all music programs, we were hit pretty hard. But we've got the thing going in the right direction, and Brian is a perfect person to come in and use his skills and his vision to really impact students and programs here in the music department. I think we've hit a home run really, with having Brian agree to leave his great program and come here. So, I’m super excited to say the least.
VR: Can you tell me a little bit about your role and how it's evolved over time, as well as how the department in general has evolved or changed since you came on?
CR: When I came, it was really a pretty small program, very typical of a rural, mid-sized high school in Vermont. There was a music program here, and there were a lot of talented students, but it lacked cohesion and community connection. So one of the things immediately that we were able to do with the support of the school board and the community was to begin to offer private lessons. This developed over years, people from the community coming into the building during the school day and offer lessons. My promise to the school board at the time back in 1990 is that we would always try to give that opportunity to any family regardless of whether or not they were able to afford it. That continues to this day, 33 years later, where we have nine teachers that come in here each week that offer lessons on clarinet and guitar and drums and trumpet and trombone, and all the instruments, and it's really been, I think, a game changer. It’s put us on the map, because students who are given those opportunities to learn and engage one-on-one with a music teacher, that's just totally different than they would be if you just played in band or just sang in chorus and never had that individual attention. Again, with the community support, and with some consistent implementation and effort on our part in the music department, teachers came back year after year, and students stuck with the program and stayed in their lessons year after year. And if they were able to do that for four or five, six years, for some of them that came in as seventh graders, you end up with a pretty deep program, with a band and a chorus and opportunities for learning that are sort of not what you typically find in a smaller high school in Vermont.
The Harwood music department will host a jazz night at the Harwood auditorium at 7 p.m. on February 9 with Bruce Sklar, Harwood’s longtime jazz teacher who is also retiring this year.