Strike up the band for BGHS’s Smith
Written by MARIE THOMAS BAIRD Sentinel Education Editor
Saturday, 04 May 2013 06:59
Karen Smith quickly admits her passion for teaching music is fueled by the students.
|Karen Smith, BGHS director of bands, is retiring. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
“A passion to make music and see children succeed in music” is how Smith describes her job as director of band for Bowling Green Schools.
Smith is retiring July 1 after 34 years of teaching, 30 in Bowling Green.
She’s taught students of every age, from fifth-graders to seniors.
This year she’s also teaching general music at Conneaut Elementary.
She called retiring at this time “a practical decision.”
But while Smith will retire from teaching, she promises she won’t retire from being a musician.
“It’s not a career. It’s part of our personalities,” she said.
Smith said she knew in seventh grade she wanted to be a music teacher.
She studied piano and clarinet and “I sing in a group.”
She announced her retirement two weeks ago and she’s already been approached to join chorale groups and be an accompanist.
Her goal: “Take six months to exhale before you over commit yourself.”
She praised the Bowling Green community for support of music and the arts, and heaped kudos on the parents of band students.
She spent 25 years working with former band director Thom Headley, who retired in June 2009.
She and Bruce Corrigan now run the dband program, and this has been the first year since Headley’s retirement there has not been three teachers.
“It’s pretty hard to replace 34 years of experience,” said Corrigan, who has worked with Smith for 23 years. “Our schools have benefited from having her as part of our staff.”
Smith guessed she spends 10 hours each day at the school. “There is no summer off.”
The band program is the last to finish the year, playing at graduation, and the first to start the school year by playing at the Wood County Fair.
“As the needs increase and schools change, we adapt,” she said.
She’s spearheaded eight band trips, her first in 1985 to Washington, D.C., and her last one in April, also to the capital.
The band also has traveled to Orlando, Fla., Boston and Toronto, and made three trips to Europe.
Her job has involved a lot of logistics: scheduling instrument repair, conducting inventory, overseeing the massive library of music and being the liaison for a very active boosters group.
“I have great volunteers,” Smith said.
Jay Simler, who has spent nine years on the band boosters board, had nothing but praise for Smith.
“Her passion is the children,” he said. “When every kid graduates, they have a passion for music.”
He said Smith does not expect every student to be a perfect musician, but she wants them to have an appreciation for music.
“The kids are very independent. They learn how to work as a group. Everybody has a role and knows what their roles are.
She makes adults out of these kids,” he said.
Smith is proud that as the community has evolved, her program has embraced diversity.
As district families face financial difficulties, the band boosters have filled the gap for many students by providing opportunities families couldn’t. The boosters have provided scholarships for students who show exceptional talent but can’t afford private lessons; pays the fees for all individuals to participate in honors bands, and helps raise money for the band trips.
“Every student who wanted to travel was able to travel through the generosity of this community,” Smith said of this year’s band trip.
In appreciation of that donor support, the band will offer a free concert May 11 at 7 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center.
It is one of six band performances this month.
Smith’s husband, Phil, a music teacher for Perrysburg Schools, also plans to retire this year after 32 years. Her daughter, Catherine Hann, will graduate this weekend from the University of Kentucky with a bachelor of arts in arts administration.
Smith said retirement isn’t daunting. “I’ve loved what I’ve done.”
She’s looking forward to creating the next life for her family, but she won’t turn her back on music.
“Being musicians is who we are,” she said.
Simler said band parents will miss Smith’s “willingness to do anything and everything for the kids.”