Cony band director ready for final bow
By Keith Edwards firstname.lastname@example.org, Staff Writer
AUGUSTA -- Dwight Tibbetts, who will soon lead his last concert after 32 years as a music teacher and band director in Augusta's schools, says it hasn't really been about the music.
"It has been great, teaching kids to play music, but it's not really about that," said Tibbetts, who plans to retire at the end of this school year. "If it was all about teaching sharps and flats and notes, I never would have lasted. It's about teaching them how to have fun learning."
But the music has been good, excellent even, as evidenced by the row of gold medals and other awards decorating the walls of the band room at Cony.
Tibbetts, 55, of Windsor, said he believes in accountability and is proud students he has taught have won top awards at music festivals judged by independent music scholars. And he's proud of the strong music program in Augusta where "people love their music."
But he's proudest of neither of those things.
"I'm very proud of the Washington, D.C. trips, more than anything else," Tibbetts said. "What we've taught the kids about our country, our veterans, how they should be good citizens."
Those band trips to D.C., where students have played on the steps of the Capitol, the Jefferson Memorial and at other national landmarks, spurred the creation of a unique spring middle school concert. The popular event mixes student musician performances with appearances by politicians and veterans, a slide show set to music highlighting students' visit to the nation's capital and narration by local historian and former teacher David Dennett.
"The trips he has taken with the kids have just been phenomenal," said Sue Pattershall, a fellow music teacher who has worked with Tibbetts since 1994. "The big one is the trip to D.C. culminating with the concert."
This year's upcoming concert, Tibbetts' last at Cony, features patriotic songs including "March of the Armed Forces," "Stars and Stripes Forever" and "Blades of Grass." It is Monday at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at Cony, and is free and open to the public.
The trips, which now take place every other year, started in 1989 as a way to tie music into teaching students about the history of the U.S.
"Dwight is full of passion -- not only for music but for his students," Pattershall said. "He has high expectations and a really strong desire to bring out the best in students. But to also have them have fun at what they do, while they're learning."
Tibbetts said the music program in Augusta remains strong and said he hopes the D.C. trips, and resulting middle school concerts, continue after he leaves.
Tibbetts, who has also served many years on the school board in Windsor, was hired at band director at Cony in 1980. In addition to his role as band director, Tibbetts also teaches at other Augusta schools.
He said the timing is right, financially, for him to retire. He plans to write and play more music, including with the band he founded, Downeast Brass.
Tibbetts said new state retiree insurance changes were one factor in him deciding to retire now. Some changes have already been made to save money, such as eliminating cost-of-living adjustments for three years and capping increases after that, while proposals for the future may alter benefit plans for the state retirement system.
In his retirement letter to Superintendent Cornelia Brown, Tibbetts said that he was writing "with shaky fingers and a tear in my eye."
"I have very mixed feelings," Tibbetts said. "But it's time for me to move on."
Keith Edwards -- 621-5647