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Camden Hills band director to retire after 36 years

May 18, 2020
Courtesy of: Courtesy of Bangor Symphony Orchestra Camden Hills Regional High School Band Director Nancy Rowe is retiring at the end of the school year after 36 years in the Camden-Rockport and Five Town Community school districts.

CAMDEN — Nancy Rowe, director of visual and performing arts at Camden Hills Regional High School, is retiring after teaching for 36 years in the local school district.

"I'm so appreciative to have worked in this fantastic school district," Rowe said recently. Reflecting on the "incredible staff and the supportive community," she said, "I'm lucky to have landed here. It's been fun. It's been a great ride."

As she looks back, she knows what she will miss the most is working with students. As she looks forward, she's excited about pursuing passions for which she has had little time.

Students, parents, community members and alumni of the Camden and Rockport school systems know Rowe as the high school band director. Anyone who has seen a performance of the concert, jazz and marching bands, these past three decades, has witnessed Rowe at the helm.

The way she tells it, circumstance, luck and choices, all played a part in her becoming a percussionist, member of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra since 1980, music teacher and band director.

Rowe is a Maine girl, and proud of it, she said. She grew up in the Livermore Fall and Farmingdale areas. In fifth grade, when classmates were choosing an instrument to play, her father, a doctor, and her mother, a nurse, discouraged her from playing a wind instrument because she had asthma.

There was an old drum set in the basement, so she decided to play that. She remembers she got to play the drum solo in the Hogan's Hero march.

"Music just continued to be something that I was fairly good at," she said. "I started going to music camp and it became a real part of my life."

"When it was time to go to college, my family had high expectations for all of us. Going to school for music was just by chance," she said.

At some point, Rowe had the realization that she was going to teach. "Thankfully, by a stroke of luck, it just worked out," she said.

While studying at the University of Maine, she was hired by the Bangor Symphony Orchestra as a substitute and eventually became Principal Tympanist.

Her first teaching job was in Washburn, a town in far-north Maine, near Caribou, Presque Isle and the Canadian border. Back then, the BSO paid for her transportation, in small airplanes, so she could attend rehearsals.

Rowe was hired as band director and instructor at Camden-Rockport Middle School in 1984, and in 1987, moved to the high school, where she has been ever since.

"One of the most important things I've done is to keep music alive for myself and pass that musicianship to my students," she said.

Through teaching, Rowe has shared her passion for orchestral music with her students. "I love the expressiveness of the string instruments combined with the power of the winds and percussion. l also love the sophistication of the music as well as the emotions it evokes," she said

She always tries to program an orchestral arrangement for students to expose them to this music. "I get a real charge out of seeing the excitement of students when they start to discover orchestral music."

"Playing in the Bangor Symphony has helped me to stay on top of my game," Rowe said, "as well as providing me the opportunity to work under top-notch conductors, including current conductor and Grammy Award winner, Lucas Richman.

At the beginning of her teaching years, she wanted to have the best band, playing really hard music, she said. Now, that goal is a byproduct, she said.

Rowe said the best part of teaching, and what she will miss the most has been connecting with the kids. She said "Working with them has been the highlight, and we do it through music. It's been an evolution," she said.

"I'm always amazed at the end product. It's a process and the process is fun for me and hopefully for them."

Rowe and her bands have won many awards over the decades. Listing just a couple of those accolades, she mentions being chosen as 2015 Music Educator of the Year by the Maine Music Educators Association.

Another was the 2017 New York Heritage Festival, where her concert and jazz bands won four first place awards.

Rowe said this was the most musically sensitive performance she has heard from one of her bands. "That was a real highlight," she said. "I was so proud of them."

When asked about changes she has seen over the years, she said there are two things that have played a role in the declining number of students who stay with band over high school.

One is that students are now living in an age of instant gratification and technology. "Playing an instrument takes practice and hard work, and you don't see instantaneous results," she explained.

She has also seen increased pressure on academics, as well as more choices in the curriculum and after-school activities.

Because she has taught continuously and never taken a year off, she can retire at an earlier age than many retirees.

Her plan originally included a final spring band concert in the high school's Strom Auditorium. She had even invited band alumni from over the decades to join in for one of the band pieces. Then the COVID-19 pandemic intervened.

In place of a last live band concert, her concert and jazz band students are preparing a virtual band performance, which will premiere during a virtual Fine Arts Night, June 4.

A virtual band piece is a challenge for students, who each must make a video of themselves playing their part. Rowe has created a conducting video, with a voice-over, which students listen to while playing. Because she can't "fix things instantly" in a rehearsal, the hope is this will help remind them what they had learned back when school was still open.

Reflecting on the situation, she said it's disappointing. But every time she feels down about it, she thinks about the many people with more difficulties than herself and gets over it pretty quickly. Not getting the big send off, is ok, she said.

Her family and friends are still still going to give her a retirement party. "I don't know when, but I'm going to have one."

Rowe is looking forward to travel and spending more time with family. Without the pressure of full-time job, she plans to devote more time to her many passions, including her music, playing a marimba she owns but hasn't had time for, and the BSO.

She has worked since 2005 as co-dockmaster at Wayfarer Marine, now Lyman Morse, and hopes she will have more time for that job. She is owner and captain of  Camden Sailing Charters, and looks forward to boating.

She is also a skier and teaches at the Snow Bowl. She plans to work on her skiing skills and to skiing mid-week in Western Maine, which she hasn't been able to do since she was an undergraduate.

Led by Band Director Nancy Rowe, front left, the Camden Hills marching band honors those who have fallen in Memorial Day ceremonies and parades in Camden, Rockport and Lincolnville each year. (Photo by: Susan Mustapich)
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