Potsdam Music Educator to be Honored at "From the Top" Recording


Potsdam High School Band Director Theresa Witmer will be honored at the CPS-hosted “From the Top” performance on Saturday at SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music.

Though young musicians are the focus for the upcoming Community Performance Series presentation of National Public Radio’s “From the Top,” the organization will also take time to honor a local music educator during the broadcast.

Potsdam High School Band Director Theresa Witmer will be highlighted as an outstanding local music educator during the concert on Saturday, April 21 at 7:30 p.m. at the Helen M. Hosmer Concert Hall at SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music.

The Potsdam “From the Top” recording will be aired nationally the week of May 21 and on North Country Public Radio on Sunday, May 27 at 4 p.m.

Hosted by pianist Christopher O’Riley, NPR’s “From the Top” is the preeminent showcase for young musicians. The Potsdam performance will feature five performances, along with interviews, sketches and games with the musicians, revealing the heart and soul behind these extraordinary young people.

This year, “From the Top” has also been honoring special music educators in each of their tour locations. This accolade gives an exceptional music educator a chance to be recognized nationally both through a “shout-out” on the NPR broadcast and a profile on the “From the Top” website.

“Without these music educators, there’d be no kids to put on our show. We owe them our very existence, so the least we can do is celebrate the very best of them on the air,” said Producer Tim Banker. “Theresa is an amazing candidate for this ‘shout-out.’ We look for someone who is newsworthy for the length of their tenure in the business, for the innovative quality of their work and for the breadth of the people they’ve touched. With over 30 years of teaching experience under her belt, Theresa certainly has the track record. Her energy and dynamism in the classroom is known throughout the region, and of course we’ve read several accounts of students who simply adore her.”

Theresa Witmer has long been a pillar in the education community of the North Country. Receiving her undergraduate degree in music education from Ithaca College and her graduate degree in saxophone performance from Bowling Green State University, Witmer has been teaching in the New York public school system for more than 30 years. Of that time, 24 of those years have been dedicated to Potsdam High School, where she is currently the band director. But this is just one of many hats she wears. Witmer is also an adjudicator for the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA), a member and past president of the St. Lawrence County Music Educators Association. In addition, she directs the Potsdam Community Band, which brings together as many as 80 community members to play in the group, and is also a musician and board member for the Northern Symphonic Winds.

Recently, Witmer received the 2012 Richard H. Snook Outstanding Band Director Award from the New York State Band Directors Association (NYSBDA). Despite her continuous involvement in music education, the award came as a bit of a surprise to her. 

“I was shocked,” said Witmer. “There are so many wonderful teachers and band directors across the state. I really feel like I’m just doing my job!”

And for Witmer, that job includes not just her band director duties, but instilling within her students a strong passion and appreciation for the arts.

“Students here need the arts education,” said Witmer. “They don’t have as many cultural advantages as those in metropolitan areas, so we need to help them take advantage of what there is available. It’s my goal that students become life-long music lovers and music appreciators! We bring them to the arts at Crane, CPS, SUNY Potsdam and the other colleges, and we bring the arts to them, by having them learn quality music in our ensembles and lessons, and having guests come into the school, such as will happen this Friday with the ‘From the Top’ musicians.”

Witmer and several other music educators at Potsdam have helped to organize an in-school outreach session with two of the musicians from the Potsdam “From the Top” broadcast. The musicians will perform and speak with the local students, offering advice on how to be a successful musician. For Witmer, this is an excellent opportunity for her students to connect with talented musicians on a peer level.

“This will give our students the opportunity to hear, up close, people their own ages who have worked extremely hard to excel at their art,” said Witmer. “In addition to hearing them in an intimate setting, the students will have the opportunity to ask them questions and ‘tune in’ to what their lives are like. I’m sure my students will find some ways in which the ‘From the Top’ musicians are very similar to them, and some ways in which their lives are very, very different.”

The outreach session will serve as a preview of the “From the Top” performance where Witmer will be recognized. A fan of the show, she is personally looking forward to the opportunity to share her story and be a part of the “From the Top” family.

“I love the show! Christopher O’Riley is such an amazing musician, and it’s always a treat to hear him play,” said Witmer. “It sounds sappy, but I’m often moved to tears by what I hear on the show. The music performed by such young people is thrilling, and hearing what can be done with hard work and support is continually inspiring.”

The Potsdam “From the Top” broadcast will feature several of the most talented young performers from across the country. Musicians include: John Lee, a 17-year-old cellist from Basking Ridge, N.J.; Avery Gagliano, a 10-year-old pianist from Washington, D.C.; Jieming Tang, a 14-year-old violinist from Cleveland, Ohio; Margaux Filet, an 18-year-old flutist from Davis, Calif., and the Al Dente String Quartet, which is comprised of 14-year-old violinist Adé Williams, 17-year-old violinist Claire Bourg, 16-year-old violist Caitlin Adamson and 16-year-old cellist Tara Safavi.

Tickets for the Potsdam broadcast start at $28 for adults, $25 for seniors and SUNY Potsdam faculty/staff, and $14 for students. Tickets can be purchased by visiting the CPS Box Office, located in the lobby of Sara M. Snell Music Theater on the SUNY Potsdam campus, or at Northern Music & Video in downtown Potsdam.

Tickets can also be purchased by calling (315) 267-2277 or visiting www.cpspotsdam.org.

The Community Performance Series presentation of “From the Top” has been sponsored in part by the Northern New York Community Foundation and North Country Public Radio, with series underwriting by SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music. Media sponsors include WWNY Channel 7 News/Fox 28 and the Daily Courier-Observer.

Established in 1989, CPS at SUNY Potsdam is a college-community partnership presenting world-class performing artists and arts education opportunities in Northern New York. A rich mixture of programs links community, classroom, and audiences of all ages while preserving access to the performing arts for future generations.

For more information about CPS events, visit www.cpspotsdam.org. To learn more about “From the Top,” visit www.fromthetop.org.

Founded in 1816, The State University of New York at Potsdam is one of only three arts campuses in the entire SUNY system. SUNY Potsdam’s arts curriculum offers the full palette: music, theatre, dance, fine arts and creative writing. No matter the discipline, people from all backgrounds can find their creative compass at Potsdam, with myriad arts immersion experiences available for both campus and community.