In 2005, Lewiston’s Linda Vaillancourt took on a part-time job as North Yarmouth Academy’s band and orchestra director. By that point, she had been teaching music at various districts across the state, but NYA was a good match for her and in 2013, her position became full-time.
In May, surprising no one but Vaillancourt herself, she was named Music Educator of the Year at the Maine All-State Music Festival in Orono. To her colleagues, it was a no-brainer – this is a lady who has been teaching music for 20 years, after all, and in some cases, she’s teaching kids as young as 18 months.
What does she get out of teaching children music? We asked Vaillancourt that very thing when she agreed to answer some questions about her career.
What was your first instrument? My first instrument was the viola. I started through my school music program in Massachusetts when I was in 4th grade. I then started flute in 5th grade, and played in both orchestra and band. I continued both instruments all the way through, but viola is the instrument I play primarily now.
At what point did you realize you wanted to teach? I can’t remember a time NOT wanting to teach. I always wanted to be a teacher, and in early high school it dawned on me that I could combine my love of music with teaching by being a music teacher.
What’s the hardest part of teaching music to children? Hardest part – keep in mind you are catching me mid-summer, when my mindset is quite a bit different than, say, January. Right now I would say scheduling. It seems completely inane, but it can be hard to get a good schedule where students have the ability to take the music classes/ensembles they would like, and where I can see them as often as I would like. Music often ends up taking lower priority than other subjects (especially with the current emphasis on testing), so music teachers are often given very little contact time. I have had jobs that involved scrounging up students whenever they might possibly have a free moment, using whatever space we could find that was free at the time. It is hard to really get going with that, and kids get frustrated when they are not making progress. I am lucky with my current school in that they try hard to put music in its own block, but then we still get hit with students who want to take every ensemble/course offered. It is challenging to come up with something that works well for everyone.
What’s the funnest part? The generic answer would be working with the kids. That’s what it’s all about, and it is amazing. More specifically, though: I love that day when they are trying out their instruments for the first time. They are working hard to make a sound. They make a sound. It is usually a pretty awful sound (especially when there are several of them together), but the enthusiasm is incredible. On a similar note, I love the moment in the first year of playing when they start pulling together as an ensemble, realizing how all of their different parts fit together.
Did you see the educator award coming, or was it a surprise? It was a surprise! That said, I was guided to the “Special Guests” table when I arrived at the banquet, which seemed a little odd. At the point when my husband and kids showed up – this is a Thursday night in May in Orono – I figured something was up.
What are you up to when you’re not teaching music? I try to keep pretty busy! I still enjoy making music as well as teaching it, and I play in the Bangor Symphony as well as several other groups. I am currently the music director for Community Little Theater’s Youth Summer Music Theatre Camp (we present “Once On This Island” in two weeks!). I have three kids, which also keeps me busy, and I enjoy having much of the summer to spend with them.
North Yarmouth Academy’s Linda Vaillancourt was named Maine Music Educator of the Year by the Maine Music Educator Assocation on May 17 at the All-State Music Festival in Orono.