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RPO Musicians honor area music educators

For Immediate Release:  April 17, 2017
Media Contacts:  Sally Cohen, 585-749-1795, [email protected]


29th Annual Music Educators’ Awards Night is this Thursday


Rochester, NY –  The musicians of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) will honor local music teachers at the 29th annual Music Educators’ Awards Night this Thursday, April 20 during the 7:30 p.m. Stare Conducts Mahler 5 concert in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. Founded in 1988, the Awards work to strengthen the relationship between area music educators and the musicians of the RPO.

“Music educators deserve to be commended as often as possible for deeply enriching others’ lives,” explains Maura McCune Corvington, a member of the RPO horn section and chair of the 2017 Awards committee. “I would not have pursued and succeeded in music without stellar classroom and private music instruction.”

Administrators, educators, parents and students submit nominations that are then reviewed by a committee comprised of community educators and RPO musicians. Five outstanding local music educators were chosen (bios with quotes follow):

  • Instrumental Music Award, Band (K-12): Jeanne Coonan of Spry Middle School in Webster
  • Instrumental Music Award, Band (K-12): M. David Shemancik of Sutherland High School in Pittsford
  • Choral Director Award (K-12): Douglas Steves of Oliver Middle School in Brockport
  • Classroom Music Specialist Award (General Music K-12): Al Heary of DeWitt Elementary School in Webster
  • Special Award: Beverly Smoker, Professor and Department Chair at Nazareth College

Jeanne Coonan holds degrees from the Eastman School of Music and Ithaca College, and has taught Instrumental Music for 35 years (24 years in Webster Central School District). Her experience includes teaching elementary, middle, and high school bands. Her elementary bands received Superior ratings at the Annapolis, MD Music Festival in 1996, 1998, and 2007, performing original commissioned compositions each time. Ms. Coonan is co-founder of the Hochstein Junior Wind Symphony and Hochstein Youth Wind Symphony, both created to give motivated middle and high school students an in-depth performing experience. In addition to teaching, she performs as bassoonist and contrabassoonist for the University of Rochester Symphony Orchestra, Roberts Wesleyan College-Community Orchestra, and the Penfield Symphony. Ms. Coonan has also been elected to nine terms as Treasurer of the Webster Teachers Association, is active at the state/national level for NYSUT/AFT, and has been adjudicator and instructor for drum corps and marching bands nationwide. Ms. Coonan’s advice for the next generation of music educators is “Never take your job for granted. Give each lesson, rehearsal, and concert your best effort, so you will always have enthusiastic support from your students, their parents, and the community.”

M. David Shemancik is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music and also holds a Master of Music degree from James Madison University. Of his 38 years teaching in New York State public schools, the past 27 have been in the Pittsford Central School District. His various responsibilities have included directing high school and middle school bands as well as marching and jazz bands, giving lessons on all band instruments, coaching chamber ensembles, directing pit orchestras for more than 20 musicals, and teaching AP music theory. He’s active with NYSSMA (New York State School Music Association) as band chairman, chaperone, and adjudicator for solo festivals, and has guest conducted All-County and area All-State bands in several counties. He teaches private clarinet and sax lessons, and regularly performs in pit orchestras and community ensembles. Some of the moments in which Mr. Shemancik takes great pride are when alumni contact him with updates about performing in college or community groups, and when the former students choose to become fellow music educators.

Douglas Steves graduated from Hartwick College with a Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education with Certification in Orff-Schulwerk.  He earned his Master of Music in Music Education degree from Ithaca College, and is grateful for having had the chance to study with Dr. Thurston J. Dox, Julia Clay, Don Slagel, and Jack Covert.  Since 1984, Mr. Steves has been at Brockport Central, where he teaches General Music 6-8, Chorus 7-8, and PopVocals.  He’s also music director for Oliver Middle School musicals and coordinates a choral commission project with Houghton College.  He is a member of Brockport Teachers Association, NAfME (National Association for Music Eduction), NYSSMA,  MCSMA (Monroe County School Music Association), and a Brother of Phi Mu Alpha and Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternities. “The aspect I love most about my job are the remarkable, breathtakingly challenging students of the middle school,” says Mr. Steves. “They can leave us scratching our heads in frustration one second, and leave us totally awestruck and bedazzled by their talent and grace the next.”

Al Heary has been teaching vocal/general music for 30 years, and currently teaches K-5 music at DeWitt Road School in the Webster Central School District.  He received a B.S. in Music Education/Performance from Ithaca College and a M.M. in Music Education from SUNY Fredonia.  He has completed three levels of Orff-Schulwerk teacher training at Eastman School of Music, three levels of Kodály teacher training at Nazareth College, and studied at the Orff Institute in Salzburg, Austria. Mr. Heary is past-president of the Greater Rochester American Orff-Schulwerk Association, and has served two terms on the board. He has been on the National Board of Trustees for the American Orff Schulwerk Association (AOSA), and is currently the National Conference Chair for the AOSA 2018 Professional Development Conference in Cincinnati.  Al was a writer for the Pre-Kindergarten – Grade 2 National Core Music Standards. “I love working with my students and creating musical experiences that will hopefully ‘plant the seed’ for them to continue enjoying music throughout life: singing, playing an instrument, performing on the stage, or attending concerts and shows,” says Mr. Heary.

Beverly Smoker is Professor of Music at Nazareth College, Chair of the Music Department and director of the Master of Music in Performance and Pedagogy. She previously taught at Cornell, Grinnell, and Coe Colleges, at the University of Iowa, and operated an independent piano studio. Her students have earned undergraduate and graduate music degrees at universities throughout the country and maintain careers as pedagogues and performing artists. A long-term MTNA (Music Teachers National Association) member, and current NYSMTA president-elect, Ms. Smoker has presented at national, state and conferences. Numerous appearances as pianist include performances on the Knitting Factory Composer Series, NYC, and recordings for ABC Radio in Brisbane, Australia, and Centaur Records. She was a recipient of a Gramma Fisher Fellowship at the American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz, Austria, and ten solo touring grants from the Iowa Arts Council. She has presented many recitals devoted to twentieth-century music, and premiered several works.  Says Ms. Smoker: “I love seeing our students transition to successful alums making impactful contributions to their communities as music educators, performers, therapists, scholars, composers, arrangers and in many other capacities that support the arts and music industry.”

Tickets for Stare Conducts Mahler 5 start at $23, with $10 student tickets, and are available online at, by phone at (585) 454-2100, or in person at the RPO’s new Patron Services Center (108 East Avenue) and at all Wegmans That’s T.H.E. Ticket! locations.

Media please note: Images of all Award winners are available upon request, and interviews and photo/footage opportunities can be arranged.