Stephen Curtis retiring after “Inspiring Southborough Musicians” for 38 years (Updated)

by beth on June 7, 2017

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Above: Yesterday was “Mr. Curtis Day” at Neary School in honor of the teacher who has inspired Southborough students to play music since 1979. (image left cropped from photo by Nancy Gould, right by Joao Melo)

Last night was Band Teacher Stephen Curtis’ final concert as leader of the Neary Band.

Students, faculty members, and families celebrated the milestone. Most of his students (and some teachers) marked the occasion by sporting special “Mr. Curtis Day” t-shirts.

The shirts honoring Curtis read “Inspiring Southborough Musicians” from 1979 to 2017. And if you’ve seen him with the kids, you understand why.*

Last night, Curtis told the crowd he was grateful and wouldn’t have traded his career for anyone elses’s. He gave credit to several colleagues, and thanked the Southborough school system for always recognizing the importance of music and arts in the schools.

Curtis has been teaching band to Southborough students since 1979. For many years now, he’s overseen the 4th and 5th graders at Neary School. But before the program expanded and more teachers were added, Curtis covered the middle school.

For many Southborough families, it’s been an honor to say that Curtis taught two generations of their family. The teacher referred to one of those families when he thanked Stefanie Capello for organizing the surprise T-shirts.

Curtis fondly remembered back when he was teaching Stephanie (then Ranieri) in the Woodward 7th Grade Band. He said, at that time, he had to reprimand Stefanie after fellow bandmate Chuckie Capello complained she was teasing him. Last night their son (also Chuckie Capello) played in both the 5th Grade and Blues bands.

In addition to the bands for each grade, Curtis created the optional “Maggie Neary Blues Band”. Over the years, Curtis has composed his own fun tunes for them to play, like last night’s “Peanut Butter and Jelly”. And he’s inspired students to follow suit.

Last night’s concert culminated in a final rendition of the Neary School song by both the 4th and 5th grade bands, accompanied by Neary alumni.

That song was based on an original composition by a Neary student, Connor Jenks. He’s not the only student that Curtis inspired to compose music. Midway through the concert, the crowd listened to the original composition, “Count Curtis’ Revenge”, by 6th grader Cameron Jackson. The piece was performed by “The Big Phat Phunk Band” (Curtis with adult friends and Neary band alum).

Here are some photos from last night’s concert (and other recent performances):

Mr. Curtis Neary Final Concert close up (photo by Nancy Gould) Curtis conducting 4th grade band (photo by Joao Melo) Curtis scatting (photo by Nancy Gould) 4th graders scatting - scroll down to videos for an example from earlier in the day (photo by Nancy Gould)

Curtis performing with The Big Phat Phunk Band (photo by Nancy Gould) Curtis conducting at final Neary concert with Cameron Jackson on the keyboard (photo by Nancy Gould) Curtis final Neary concert everyone playing Neary School Song (photo by Joao Melo)  Curtis conducting at Neary Band's winter concert (photo by Rachel Truman) 

Neary Band performance at MAJE festival (photo tweeted by Neary Principal Valenti) Curtis conducting Blues Band at retirement party for him, Mrs. Donolan (formerly Ms. Terry), and Mrs. Daley (photo by Rachel Truman) Curtis speaking at final Neary Concert (photo by Rachel Truman) Curtis with Big Phat Phunk Band (photo by Rachel Truman)

*My 5th grade daughter is one of the many children I’ve seen inspired to play over the past two years. Without his sense of fun and whimsy, I doubt she’d be willing to play an instrument in band, and certainly not show up for three early morning rehearsals per week in order to also participate in the Blues Band.

But, these videos tweeted by Neary Principal Kathleen Valenti from yesterday’s in-school concert probably tell the story better.

Here, Curtis is encouraging students to enjoy the art of scatting:

And here, 4th graders play “Fight Song”. (It’s more impressive, when you understand that Curtis responded to their request to learn the song by challenging players to work with him to figure it out, including extra music sessions with piano players over lunch periods):

Updated (6/7/17 5:34 pm): I couldn’t resist adding two more pics from last night, after Rachel Truman uploaded her most recent to her Neary Jazz Band album.

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