Turners Fall High School band teacher receives McGraw Uplift Award

  • Alyssa Comeau is the music teacher at Turners Falls High School and Great Falls Middle School. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 3/24/2023 6:59:44 PM

TURNERS FALLS — A metalhead band teacher with a classroom full of rubber ducks won this year’s McGraw Uplift Award.

The McGraw Uplift Award is given annually to Turners Fall High School students or staff members who exemplify the spirit of Earl McGraw, the Turners Falls assistant principal who died of lung cancer in 2016.

Band teacher Alyssa Comeau certainly exemplifies spirit. She makes it her job to be “loud and crazy” in morning meetings. She uses these opportunities as outreach for the Music Department, and it’s working.

In the three years Comeau has worked at the school, she has transformed the Music Department from having just nine students enrolled to 120. After the pandemic started and the former music teacher retired, the Music Department was extremely small. Comeau built the department from the ground up to provide a “safe space for children to flourish in their interests,” she explained.

Comeau believes that every student should have the opportunity to thrive in school. Some do this in sports, theater or art; Comeau works to create that space for student musicians.

Comeau starts children playing any instrument at any skill level and builds a band with what she has. This year’s high school band contains a unique combination of eight guitars, three basses, a piano, a clarinet and a trumpet.

“I make it work,” she explained.

The high school band learned the song “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes, and it has become a huge hit with their audiences.

“I meet kids where they are at,” Comeau continued. She said she finds what music students are excited about and teaches them the content based on their interests. “That is overall more productive, and they have fun with it.”

In her free time, she performs at the Ja’Duke Center for the Performing Arts, living within a mile of the school with her two cats. Comeau is originally from northern New Hampshire and moved to the area because she was excited to build a new Music Department from scratch.

One day as a joke, a student brought a rubber duck to her classroom. That duck was dubbed “pig duck chicken” and lived on the bass drum. The students loved the duck so much that they brought it on stage when they performed. From then on, students have filled the room with ducks of all shapes and colors to create a “duck family.”

“The kids talk about our duck family all the time. We have become this big crazy family,” Comeau said. She explained many of the students call her “mother music” or “mom” as part of this duck family.

Comeau is passionate about community. She believes that a community is what raises children, so she tries to give back to the community as much as possible. She takes the band to a variety of local events throughout the year to perform and always makes the shows open to the public.

This community connection has benefited the band, in turn. Over winter break, Comeau made a casual social media post asking for instrument donations. The post ended up going viral and she received 60 donations, with people reaching out to donate resources and time to help the music program grow.

“I love these kids, and the faculty here is incredible,” Comeau said. “I was moved and humbled by receiving” the McGraw Uplift Award.

Bella Levavi can be reached at 413-930-4579 or blevavi@recorder.com.


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