YARMOUTH — Linda Vaillancourt wrapped up her 19th year of teaching by being named Music Educator of the Year by the Maine Music Educators Association.
After teaching music in districts across the state, Vaillancourt landed a part-time position as North Yarmouth Academy’s band and orchestra director in 2005.
That turned into a full-time position in 2013, teaching lower-school music, middle-school instrumental music and string ensemble. She is NYA’s only faculty member who not only has taught in all divisions on campus, but also in every grade.
NYA even has a toddler program in which children are taught as early as 18 months. At this early age, Vaillancourt said, her music class is centered around exposure.
“I get to watch for quite a while,” she said. “I see them all, from 18-month-olds to 18-year-olds.”
Though she could not pick her favorite age to teach, Vaillancourt said playing string instruments are where her passion for music began when she was a child.
She also knew from a young age that she wanted to be a teacher, and once she began playing the viola in high school, her path became clear.
“Everyone always said, ‘You can’t make a career out of music,’ but it dawned on me in high school that I could combine both of (my passions) and do music education,” Vaillancourt said. “I never veered from that.”
Vaillancourt chose to continue playing the viola throughout college and continues to play professionally for the Bangor Symphony Orchestra. She is also a member of the Maine Music Society and Maine Pro Musica.
As if that and teaching isn’t enough to keep her plate full, Vaillancourt also often manages or coordinates various Maine District II festivals, serves as the manager of the Maine All-State Orchestra and is the chamber music director at the Southern Maine Strings Camp.
What’s kept Vaillancourt in the field for almost 20 years, she said, comes down to the joy she gets from sharing something she loves with the kids.
Sometimes, she added, it’s discouraging when students don’t love music as much as she does.
“But there are also the kids who really do love it and watching them realize that is pretty amazing,” Vaillancourt said.
She credited the way NYA’s curriculum is set up, which requires students to take music classes throughout most of their grade school education.
“NYA has been a fantastic place to work. They’ve been so supportive of music and the arts,” she said. “I’ve been really happy and fortunate to work here.”
The sentiment goes both ways; NYA is happy to have her.
Head of School Ben Jackson said in a news release that Vaillancourt is an amazing educator who “inspires musicians of all abilities and age levels.”
Unfortunately, Vaillancourt said, not all schools are as supportive as NYA.
“Statewide and nationally, music teachers do have a bit of an uphill climb,” she said. “We are not considered to be as essential as many of the other subjects … (But) music has been proven to do amazing things with brain development.”
According to former MMEA President Sue Barre, Vaillancourt’s expertise and dedication to music education have been key to young musicians at NYA and across the state.
“She’s an outstanding educator, as is evidenced by the program at NYA,” Barre said Tuesday. “She gives 110 percent to students at the state level (by managing the All-State Orchestra) and at NYA. The result is that music has become part of the culture there.”
Vaillancourt said she was surprised to be named Music Educator of the Year at the Maine All-State Music Festival in Orono on May 17. She said she doesn’t normally attend the weeknight banquets and had no idea she’d be receiving an award.
“I don’t think anyone goes into education for the recognition. It’s not something we need or expect,” Vaillancourt said. “But it does feel pretty amazing. I love the music teachers in Maine.”
North Yarmouth Academy’s Linda Vaillancourt was named Maine Music Educator of the Year by the Maine Music Educator Assocation on May 17 at the All-State Music Festival in Orono.