Saturday, June 4, 2011

"Eich" Turns the Page on Her Mounds View Schools Music Career

"Music, for me, has always been a place where anything is possible-- a refuge, a magical world where anyone can go, where all kinds of people can come together, and anything can happen. We are limited only by our imaginations." 

Watch & listen to  an Eicher-led kindergarten graduation.

Buffie Eicher's education career for Mounds View Public Schools is testament to the idea that mottos matter.  Over 35 years since joining the Bel Air Elementary staff in 1976, Eicher has expanded the musical horizons of students, colleagues and community members in her employed and in her spare time-- be it by helping elementary schoolers advance through a series of 17 belts on the Recorder Karate or by recruiting tenors to round out a local community choir.

This 2010-11 school year will be her last working for Independent School District 621 as she transitions to retirement.

Students & staff first describe her teaching style as one involving crystal clear expectations, and second, as "fun and awesome." Eicher also masterfully uses music instruction as a vehicle for teaching concert etiquette, everyday communication skills, and you might say--- helping students not develop the Midwestern malady of being "all work and no facial or physical expression" through music instruction.

In a society that features more than its share of professionally-produced & digitally-delivered sound, people can either forget, or be intimidated by, the notion of creating their own song.  Buffie Eicher's classroom, however, is one where everyone participates.

"Whether I am walking into her room, or just walking by her class, I am immediately pulled into any activity she has planned," said Todd Durand, Island Lake Elementary principal regarding the approach of the school's music specialist.  "I have hopped, skipped, sung, and danced with students from Kindergarten to fifth grade due to Buffie's insistence that music is a participatory process."

The musical activities of Eicher's classroom include singing, dancing, playing assorted percussion instruments, studying the art forms of The Nutcracker, and the student-motivating Recorder Karate competition.  Influencing that instruction is a set of musical preferences ranging from the serious & classical to the playful a capella of Tonic Sol-fato ...  artists as comfortably old as Elvis and as contemporary as the multi-genred Grant Dawson
Veterans Day Concert Tradition

 Eicher will support future Veterans Day Concerts in a new role.
Eicher's shining example of viewing music as a participatory process is the annual Veterans Day concert she organizes and leads for 4th and 5th graders.  In a tradition that grew from her service as the Mounds View High School choir director, this signature effort accomplishes various things: recognizing the unheralded work of veterans from the six military branches (Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines, and Merchant Marines), giving students performance opportunities in singing and speaking, and supplying edifying history lessons to students, families, and friends.

The 2010 edition of the program, for instance, provided a set of speakers who took time to explain the story behind Yankee Doodle, which originated as a British song written to ridicule Americans for the quality of their dress when compared to the finery of the Brits.

During this section, concert attendees learned the answer to the song's entirely explainable question: "Why did Yankee Doodle stick a feather in his hat and call it macaroni?"  Turns out, macaroni is not "what you thought it was." Rather than being the culinary variety, macaroni was a dandy style of British fashion the song lyrics pooh-poohed the Colonials for not having. The frontier folk did get the last laugh when they co-opted the song to celebrate their country-bumpkin look after finally turning back the British forces.

Above all else, the Eicher-led Veterans Day productions have been about 'seeing the sacrifice' of the 24 million veterans of the United States Armed Forces, 1.7 million of whom are living. To that end, the effort involves a research project for Island Lake students who survey their familial connections for veterans, 500 of which were identified in the last concert.

"She believes strongly in making sure students understand the responsibilities they have as citizens of The United States of America," said fellow teacher Mike Lundberg, who is on the Island Lake specialist team with Eicher.

"Her Veterans Day concert was phenomenal ... and though we were touched by how much it affected our Veterans, I was always struck more by how much our students learned about our country, history, patriotism, service, and gratitude," added Anne Nelson, whose information technology instruction crosscut with Eicher's work.

Eich's Teaching Stops

After graduating from Mounds View High School in 1972, Buffie Eicher, known by "Eich" to some colleagues, obtained a music education license from the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities in 1976.  From there, her career journey wound closely around the place she had always called home.  In addition to the Masters Degree she also earned from the University of Minnesota in 1984, stops along the way included: 

Bel Air Elementary 1976-1981
Chippewa Middle School 1981 -1982
Island Lake Elementary 1982 -1983
Pike Lake Elementary 1984-1992 
Chippewa/Highview Middle School 1993
Highview Middle School 1993-1996
Mounds View High School 1996 - 2001
Valentine Hills Elementary 2001- 2002
Mounds View High School  2002 -2004
Island Lake Elementary  2005 - 2011

Of these, her final stint was perhaps most meaningful.  Buffie herself attended Island Lake in grades K-3, and her two kids were students there as well.  Just in case you don't believe it can get any more heartwarming than that, consider this reflection from Island Lake teacher, Jacki Harren, a current colleague of Eicher's who sends her fourth graders to Buffie's music class every week:

"I was one of her fortunate students back in 1976 at Bel Air Elementary.  During her first year there, she encouraged me to join her choir.  This encouragement sparked a love for music and I have enjoyed singing in choirs ever since!  Later on, I began MY teaching career with her at Pike Lake and now it has come full-circle." 

Careers of 35 years can sure contain amazing private stories ... Here are Eicher's public sentiments on her time at Island Lake:

"Some of my favorite memories of Island Lake include our all school holiday sing alongs, the World’s Largest Concerts-- which included having our 2005 school year fifth graders included in the national broadcast-- the excitement of Recorder Karate, and of course, the Veterans Day programs."

What's Next?

While out birding, Eicher framed an Osprey during a recent trip to Duluth.
Retirement should bring no crying for Buffie Eicher :-)  She plans to continue her involvement in musical endeavors par excellence, as she is already at work planning a joint production of Island Lake musicians and the adult Two Rivers Chorale for the 11/11/11 Veterans Day production this November.

The next phase should supply plenty of time to don the maroon & gold (her second favorite set of school colors to Mounds View's) as she is a staunch Minnesota Gophers fan, particularly women's volleyball and tennis.  New to her set of favored institutions are DePaul University and the University of St. Thomas, where her daughter & son attend.

Her post-employment years may also provide more opportunity to practice her great sense of humor, and to move from the music hall into nature's sanctuary, where she enjoys spending time as a "birder."  Last fall, she adopted a peregrine falcon at Hawk Ridge in Duluth, which enabled her to tag, release and receive feedback about the bird afterwards, shared one of her new retirees-in-arms, Brenda Washburn, who worked alongside Eicher as a paraprofessional at Island Lake School.

And when not birding or playing her own game of tennis, Buffie just might be able to carve out some time for snowbirding at a Texas golf course community with her husband Gordie.

A Hearty Congratulations goes to Mrs. Eicher for an outstanding Mounds View music career!

"I hope that you will continue to keep music in your lives, because music really IS good for you! Play an instrument, go to concerts, sing along in the car, dance and revel in the beauty that music brings to our lives." --Buffie Eicher's parting note to Island Lake families.