In November, 2020 Indian River Charter High School (IRCHS) student Sarah Ward decided to enter the Dewey Awards Essay “Teacher of Inspiration” Competition on a whim. The Dewey Awards are financed by Charter School Capital and are submitted on a voluntary basis. The entries were written to recognize the contribution of a mentor teacher who has inspired them during their school years. It is prestigious in that only three students are awarded the distinction.
Ms. Ward said, “When I saw the flier, I immediately thought it was a perfect opportunity for me to share one of the amazing experiences that I have had over the years with Mr. Heroux.” Mr. David Heroux has been the Orchestra and Percussion Director at IRCHS since 2012.
Sarah, a junior oboist at IRCHS, is an extremely talented musician who was recently accepted to the Florida All-State Symphonic Band in January 2021. Though this honor is amazing, Sarah is no stranger to orchestral distinction. She has been the Principal Oboist of the Florida All-State in several accompaniments, including Middle School Band, Concert Band, and Concert Orchestra. Sarah is also Co-Principal oboist of the Brevard Youth Orchestra and a frequent substitute second oboist for the Space Coast Symphony Orchestra.
Here is Sarah’s essay:
“My sophomore year was the first year that I participated with my school orchestra in the annual MPA, music performance assessment, held by our district. The orchestra had been steadily rehearsing and perfecting our repertoire for weeks under the direction of our conductor, Mr. Heroux. Our small charter school orchestra was quite the underdog group, having never received straight superiors, the highest score from all of the judges, at one of these events. This year, however, was different: we were thoroughly prepared and determined to impress our talent upon the judges.
When the day arrived, every student was a bundle of nerves and excitement. Mr. Heroux consistently fed us words of encouragement throughout the day, keeping us focused on the task ahead. The performance came and went, and the stress of our scores was pressing upon us. We knew we had given a spectacular performance by the look on Mr. Heroux’s face after we walked off the stage. Performance scores were given to the directors to share with us, so the anxiety of our small ensemble was palpable in the band room the next morning.
“First of all,” I recall Mr. Heroux saying, “you all did an incredible job yesterday.” From his tone of voice, I could tell that something was amiss. I looked up and saw tears glistening in his eyes as his voice cracked. At that moment, everyone could tell that he had bitter news to share with us. Then he told us: we did not get straight superiors. He went through each of the judges’ score sheets. Two out of the three judges had given us superior ratings, but one judge only gave us an excellent, the rating below superior.
To make matters worse, Mr. Heroux told us that he had examined the point brackets, and he sadly reported that the excellent was one singular point away from a superior. I was shocked, heartbroken, and angry. We had failed to achieve the top score by one point. I looked around the room and could see other members of the orchestra equally affected by the news, especially the seniors who had worked four years for this moment.
Even when he thought that there was nothing he could say to make us feel better, Mr. Heroux demonstrated his care for us that day. He recalled us how we had worked incredibly hard and had done so well on stage the previous day. Even though we were nervous, we did not let our nerves get the best of us. When we made a mistake, we kept going. He reminded us that we had played our hearts out on that stage, and regardless of the score, we stood out as one of the most united ensembles at the event. He told us that he knew we were disappointed, and he was not going to lie to us. He was disappointed as well, but he was also proud.
Through his tears, he told us just how proud he was of our accomplishments. As an ensemble, we had been through a lot that year, but we never failed to pull through and make him proud. He helped us see that this instance was no exception. He was so incredibly proud that we were able to work together and produce beautiful music, regardless of the scores we received. One by one, many of the members of the orchestra vocally expressed their agreement with Mr. Heroux. I remember a specific instance when the principal violist shared his gratitude on how his section was always there to back him up on parts he felt that he did not completely know. After we were finished sharing, Mr. Heroux stood at the front of the room with a teary smile on his face, and at that moment, we were all satisfied and knew we would not have been the ensemble we were without his guidance.
I do not think that there was a dry pair of eyes that morning when the orchestra students left the room. Mr. Heroux had shown us that sometimes we have to look past something such as a score or a rating to see what is truly important. No, we did not receive our desired straight superiors, but we came together as one body of students and gave the performance our all. We showed our strength, not necessarily in numbers or experience, but by the will of our resolve and determination to put on our best performance.
We could not have done this, however, if it was not for Mr. Heroux. He is not just a teacher at my charter school, he is a mentor and leader who cares immensely about his students. I cannot count the times when he has encouraged me when I felt as if I was not a good enough musician to succeed in my life. He inspires every student he comes in contact with to put their best self forward and never give up on themselves, even when a setback occurs. His lessons are full of wisdom and never fail to assist students in their day to day lives, such as the one he imparted upon us that day in my sophomore year. When I am older and reflect upon my high school career, I will always see Mr. Heroux as the noble and caring person who I aspire to be.”