Blue Valley North band director Marion ‘Doc’ Roberts hangs up baton after 28 years

05/14/2014 9:16 AM

05/14/2014 9:16 AM

Random trumpet blasts, clarinet whistles and the high-pitched vibrations of violins filled the Blue Valley North High School band room Wednesday.

Within seconds the instruments blended into a seamless harmony.

It’s a familiar sound Marion Roberts will miss dearly when he permanently packs up his office on the last day of school.

After 28 years at Blue Valley North High School, the band director known as “Doc” is retiring.

“These kids are so smart and so talented. It’s been neat to watch them grow into adults,” Roberts said. “I’m really going to miss them.”

The Lawrence man admits he wasn’t sure how he was going to like teaching high school students when he joined newly opened Blue Valley North in 1986.

After all, by that point he had already been chairman of the music department at Baker University and the assistant band director at Kansas State University.

He thought he would give high school teaching a try for couple years.

But with each year came a new adventure, and a growing passion for Blue Valley North and each generation of new students.

He quickly learned that his duties extended far beyond his job description.

“Being a band director, or just being a teacher, means you’re also a policeman, a counselor and a pseudo-parent to these kids,” he said. “Sometimes they really just need to talk to someone.”

Roberts also realized how important it was to guide his students through life in general.

“At 14, kids don’t know what they want to be, so I always encourage my students to try as many things as they can, like theater or sports,” he said. “I don’t think they should give up every opportunity in life just to be in band. In high school, it’s really important to make sure they’re getting a well-rounded experience.”

Some of his fondest memories from the past 28 years include taking his Blue Valley North bands to play at the 50th and 60th anniversaries of D-Day in France. And low-key events, such as playing at retirement homes, tug at his heart.

“When the band plays, we have little kids who dance and clap and we have senior citizens wiping tears from their eyes,” he said. “It shows the students that the music they play means something. It’s not just about the notes.”

Despite the tears and laughter, however, Roberts decided this year was a perfect time to let go of the baton.

He has no immediate plans for his retirement. He just hopes to travel with his wife. And he still plans on playing the euphonium in the Lawrence City Band.

“What’s scary is that this is both my hobby and my vocation,” said Roberts, motioning to the Blue Valley North band room. “I love what I do and I want to leave before that ever changes.”

In August, the assistant band director, Dan Freeman, will fill Roberts’ shoes. And although he’s also another beloved teacher, band students at Blue Valley North say next year won’t be the same without Roberts.

“He’s the best teacher I’ve ever had,” said James Bergman, a junior who plays the bassoon. “He loves music — you can see it when he closes his eyes when he conducts — and that’s really motivating. He’s just a positive presence in the Blue Valley Community who will be dearly missed.”

Even his former students are sad to see him go.

After all, his passion for music had a ripple effect, encouraging some of his most talented students to pursue a career in music education.

One of them, Jessica Musgrave, is excited to carry on a little bit of Roberts’ legacy with her own students next year. In August, she will be the new band director at Argentine Middle School in Kansas City, Kan.

“The camaraderie Doc brought to band was magical,” said Musgrave, who graduated from Blue Valley North in 2004. “He was hard on us but only because he knew we could give more. He dug into our souls and brought out the best musically in all of us.”

One of her most poignant memories from band was playing at the 60th anniversary of D-Day in France 10 years ago. At the last minute, Roberts quietly asked her to trumpet Taps during the 21-gun salute.

“I was nervous and shaking in my boots because all of these veterans were there — it was such a huge deal,” she recalled. “You could only hear the ocean it was so quiet. When I was finished, Doc gave me a slight smile to show how proud he was of me. It still brings tears to my eyes.”

Roberts’ last day at Blue Valley North is on May 30. at 6 p.m. May 14 he will be honored at the school’s annual Concert on the Lawn at the school 12200 Lamar Ave. in Overland Park. The concert is open to the public.

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