Educator Andy Smith helps students make music and memories
By Madison Hakey | The Charlotte News
CVU’s The Symphonic Winds Band treated 7th and 8th graders of the CCS band to a special hour-long concert on Jan. 2, featuring pieces like “The Emblem of Unity March,” a favorite of band teacher Andrew Miskavage, a collection from Pirates of the Caribbean, and music from Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back, which is a piece on which the CCS band is currently working. The students in the audience displayed an impressive level of musical understanding, evidenced by their comments about dynamics and instrumentation. As the CVU students got ready to leave, they spoke some words of wisdom to the incoming students, encouraging them to continue playing their instruments. Cole Marino, a senior from Williston, said, “Keep doing music,” and encouraged students to join band as freshmen. Sabrina Davis, senior from Charlotte, agreed that band is a fun elective she has enjoyed all four years.
As the CVU students packed up and left, CCS middle school band teacher Andy Smith, gave his old students hugs and highfives. Smith has taught 10 of the 18 CVU band members at CCS or Williston Central, and he proudly pointed them out to me as they left: his son Hunter Smith on the tuba, Cole Marino and Devin Lucier on the baritone saxophone, Nate Bamberger on the French horn, Jayce Slesar on the tenor saxophone, Jake Kahn and Leo Garbose on the trumpet, Sabrina Davis, Mishka Rehak and Abigail Weimer on the clarinet. His pride in his students was evident in his beaming smile.
Halfway through his eighth year teaching at CCS, Smith has a multitude of students who come to spend their spare time with him. With an open-door policy, Smith welcomes all students to feel comfortable in the band room regardless of their differences.
“You can see an eighth grader helping a fifth grader,” Smith says. “It’s a great way to build community and encourage students to continue playing an instrument. This year at CCS, 100% of 5th graders, all but three 6th graders, and close to 75% of 7th and 8th graders are in band. That is an extremely high percentage.”
Participation is high in no small part because of Smith’s popularity, which could be attributed to the philosophies that help him create a positive learning environment for all students and be the best teacher that he can be. First, he believes that students must feel relaxed in order to learn. “If a student’s brain can be relaxed, it can operate fully,” he says. To help students relax, Smith relaxes himself so that he doesn’t cause unnecessary stress for students, and he encourages meditation. In addition to reducing students’ stress, Smith emphasizes the importance of patience. While it is important to be patient, it is also important to push students. He says, “As long as they are doing their best,” he is happy. Weimer, who had Smith as a fifth grader, expresses that he pushed her to do her best even when she was nervous about it. She says, “He really helped push me out of my comfort zone during my early musician years. For that, I am appreciative of his kind words and great enthusiasm to push our personal music boundaries to the next level of playing.” Smith believes that it is important for teachers to be as knowledgeable as they can be and, to make this possible, it is necessary to continue learning each day. “I think the year that I leave saying ‘that was the perfect year, I did everything perfectly,’ that would be a good year to retire,” he says.
Smith also highlighted the fact that for a teacher to be successful, he or she has to love teaching. He loves the kids and the music but, he explains, it is not all about the music. “I teach kids through music instead of teaching music,” he says. He teaches valuable lessons in his class that will help his students throughout their lives, lessons such as how to work as a team, be patient, and be a good listener and communicator. “Band is about becoming something greater than ourselves.”
Band is also about building confidence in students. For one fifth grader this year, one of his first lessons brought him confidence that will hopefully last him a lifetime. He sat down with his trumpet and automatically made a beautiful sound. At the end of his lesson, he stopped Smith and said, “I feel really good about myself.”
Even though his work isn’t always about the music, Smith certainly loves the music. He fell in love with music in his childhood when he used to spend hours listening to his parents’ records. Since then, he has played many instruments, thanks to his middle school band teacher who was eager to teach him any instrument Smith wanted to learn. After falling in love with the bass, Smith has played with various bands, but is loyal to four—Prydein, which plays Celtic rock, Small Change, which is a Tom Waits tribute band, Bessette Quartet, which plays funk and jazz, and Levenson Trio, a rock band. With lots of gigs coming his way, Smith limits himself to 80 a year, because, after years of experience, this seems to be the perfect amount. During his time as a performer, Smith has visited more than 15 states and 16 countries.
When he isn’t teaching or performing, Smith enjoys being outdoors at his small farm or property in the Adirondacks. He loves gardening, hiking, and riding his motorcycle. Even with these other hobbies, it is clear that Smith’s passion lies in the band room at CCS.