Riverwood Middle School band director Bonnie Weaver is a North Carolina native. She teaches 250 students daily. She and her husband have two adult children, Jennifer and Matthew.
Q: How did you get interested in band, Mrs. Weaver?
My mother was the church organist for our church, so she taught me to play the piano starting when I was four. My father sang quite well. Back then we had band starting in third grade in the Charlotte public schools. We just went one time a week. Girls were only allowed to play the flute or clarinet. I really wanted to play the trombone, but since they wouldn’t let me I chose flute. I wasn’t interested in reeds.
It wasn’t until college that I picked up other instruments.
Q: Did you stay with band through college?
Yes. After elementary school I was in what we called Junior High School back then and had three different band directors over those three years. I think that is one reason why I chose to work with middle school kids. I loved band and wanted to have someone stable in it. I wanted them [middle school students] to have continuity like I did in high school. I had a great band director in high school who really inspired me to go into teaching: Dr. Rob Maddox, who has since passed away. I was able to see him after I became a band director and tell him how he influenced me.
Q: I’ve been told that middle school can be a hard age to teach. Have you found that?
There is a vast misconception of what middle schoolers are and what they are capable of doing. They are definitely unique, but they are also quite funny, humorous. I think they’re brilliant. There is a lot more to a middle schooler than meets the eye. When they are given an opportunity to showcase their talents it opens the eyes of people who are not frequently around middle schoolers.
They are talkative. They talk too much, without question, but their hearts are in the right place. The social aspect of middle school is always there. The students can come with a lot of emotional baggage. They require me to wear lots of hats. Sometimes I’m the guidance counselor, sometimes I’m the mom. You have to take what they present to you and turn it into as much of a positive as you can. You have to gain their trust and keep their trust. They need to know that when they come to me they can count on me to listen and keep my mouth shut, unless they are in a dangerous situation.
These kids are walking such a fine line between being children and being adults. You have to choose your battles as a middle school teacher. On the whole I think these children respect me and want to please me and really want to do the right thing. They want to build a great band. As a general rule they want to move forward and shine and have their school put out in a positive light.
Q: You are a proponent of allowing students to try out different instruments instead of just focusing on one. Why is that?
It’s a matter of keeping balance in the band. I give kids the opportunity to try different things because they are really and truly still kids and you never know until you try something what you might be phenomenal at. We do tend to stay within families. I try not to move a woodwind player to a brass instrument.
There is a lot that goes into the selection of the instrument beyond just, I want to play that. A great deal of the student’s success will depend on the mouth shape, their dentition. There are a lot of things that go into the choice of the instrument.
I try to match the strength of the student to the instruments. It’s really a matter of experimentation. It’s also important for the student to buy into the idea. If it is not something they want to do they won’t practice. If they don’t practice they won’t succeed. I always tell the kids, practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent. If you practice it wrong it’s permanently wrong. Practice is essential to growth.
Q: You and the students had great success at competition last year, which was only your second year at Riverwood Middle School. Tell me about that.
At Musicale in Williamsburg the students were in different divisions because of their ages. The seventh graders were in division two and the eighth graders were in division three. They both won their divisions and then the eighth graders were the overall grand champions.
That is why I don’t want to take them to the same competition this year. I don’t want them to compete amongst themselves. This year the seventh graders will probably go to King’s Dominion for competition and the eighth graders will return to Busch Gardens, although both grades get a vote. They shouldn’t compete in the same venue.
Q: You provide the students with a multitude of opportunities to preform. Why is that?
Having the opportunity to perform builds their confidence and increases their accountability to their band team. Everybody has a job to do and if someone is missing there is a hole. Even if there are others that play the same instrument they are so unique to their team that they are missed. I try my best to find opportunities for performance. I’ve also found that Johnston County does a great job with that. Other districts in which I’ve taught have not been so committed to showcasing middle schooler’s abilities.
Q: What are your future plans?
Well, I still play the flute professionally. I play for weddings and at church. Music is a lifelong venture. I always tell the students they can do this forever. At some point I’ll retire from teaching. I’ll know when it’s time for someone younger to take over. Right now I’m still teaching and enjoying what I’m doing. We have hugely supportive administrators in Johnston County. I couldn’t do what I do without them.
Correspondent Holly Lock