2013-01-31 / Front Page

Islander named one of 50 music directors who make a difference

Gregg Charest teaches in EWG school district

GREGG CHAREST GREGG CHAREST The last couple of years have been pretty good for Gregg Charest from a professional standpoint.

The educator, who has been living in Jamestown since 2002, was voted best teacher in his district in 2011. Last year, he was a semifi- nalist for the state’s annual award given to the top teacher in Rhode Island. And just recently, Charest has been named one of the 50 directors who make a difference by School Band and Orchestra magazine. A teacher was picked from each state.

Charest, who grew up in North Smithfield, began teaching in the Exeter-West Greenwich school system 12 years ago. He graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a bachelor’s degree in music, and he is a trained percussionist with a passion for jazz and classical music. Charest teaches at both the middle school and high school level.

“I wanted to be able to direct another generation of young adults into a musical career,” Charest said.

In the article in School Band and Orchestra, Charest says that he teaches children, not music. According to Charest, every student is different. He says there are many different kinds of music teachers – some more old school than others – who rely on an infl exible attitude toward making art. His philosophy is somewhat different.

“Not every kid is going to be a professional musician,” he said. “The big picture is that kids need to have a wide range of experiences in their youth to make them whole people. If they study music as a child or young adult, that will make them better people. I’m not a screamer. I’m not a yeller. I’m not the person that takes on artistic tantrums because the music isn’t just right.”

Charest said that he likes to guide his students in the process – from beginning to end. He says by doing that, students will learn a lot about everything, starting with how he selected the music. That is something that most teachers don’t explain, he says. Charest speaks with his students about programming from the ground up, based on their ability and where they come from musically.

“It sounds a little touchy-feely, but I like to take every kid at face value and primarily judge them from their potential as I see it,” he said, “rather than the end products that someone else might have in mind.”

According to Charest, he is in a unique position because not only is he a director of a high school band, he also teaches music in middle school. That means that in his district, music students have a consistent teaching experience from seventh through 12th grade.

“It really is the beauty of my job. I have them for six years and I can really take the time to get to know them,” he said.

Unlike many band directors, Charest teaches music classes in addition to his work with the concert band. As an example, he begins each workday by teaching seventh-graders an introduction to music. The classes are an extension of what the students learned in elementary school. Charest employs everything from iPads for composition, to bucket drums for learning rhythms.

Charest’s work as a director includes concert bands for each grade. He embeds music history and theory into the band experience so that his students know where the music came from. He also directs two jazz bands, a small jazz combo, a woodwind quintet, and a brass quintet. He likes to try new things each year, and this year all of his middle school students will play in a small chamber ensemble before the end of the school year.

“They’ll primarily rehearse on their own, with some oversight from me. Since there are over 100 of them, it’s difficult for me to give each one of them direct instruction.”

All of Charest’s classes meet during the school day with the exception of the high school jazz band, which meets before school, and the middle school jazz band, which meets after school. During a typical class, Charest conducts the bands as they play and also provides them with information on music theory.

“They’re small groups and they would never be able to fit it into their schedule and also do the concert band,” he said. “That’s sort of a concession that I make, and the kids make.”

Outside of the school environment, Charest gives private percussion lessons. His students not only come from his school district, but also from Jamestown, North Kingstown and East Greenwich. Charest teaches them to play on a drum set as well as classical percussion. Charest also plays drums in the Coastline Swing Band. The group plays Thursday nights at Venice in Westerly from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.

As for the magazine recognition, Charest said that he was completely surprised by his selection. The directors are chosen in a nominating process, and he has no idea who nominated him. The magazine will not provide the information.

“I got an email from School Band and Orchestra saying that I had been selected as part of the 50 directors special,” he said. “I’m tickled that I would even be considered.”

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