Jane Bouffard Lambert has taken innumerable steps up to and down from a conductor’s podium. Countless times she’s watched with pride as musicians played their final notes, rising to accept the audience’s applause and bending in gratitude before she herself took a bow.
And on May 24, 2019, the bow that she took onstage at the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center was one of bittersweet finality.
Lambert — known by most of her students over the years as Ms. Bouffard, Ms. Bouff, or simply Bouff — is retiring after 32 years as music and band director for Stowe public schools.
For her grand finale, she invited alumni to come play and sing alongside current Stowe students, with a program including some of her favorite songs.
About 50 alumni responded to the call — from Dale Stafford, Class of 1974, and Larry Lackey, 1979 (Jane’s contemporaries, not her students) to last year’s graduates Fiona Reed and Carmen DeRienzo, and many classes in between — plus 30 or so friends and colleagues.
She thinks Newton Wells, Class of 1991, might have been one of her first students who returned to sing Saturday at Spruce.
“The whole thing was amazing,” Lambert said.
The alumni began with a little surprise for the audience: “One Last Time” in the program turned out to be a rock rendition of that old chestnut for early learners, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Lambert said she never truly got sick of that melody, because she saw so many kids get excited while learning it.
Other selections included an original composition by Stowe resident Ted Winokur, which debuted at a recent class baccalaureate. Marty Lacasse, who’s retiring as principal of Stowe Elementary School, returned to the stage as guest conductor; she was a music teacher for many years.
There was a rendition of Chuck Mangione’s searing “Children of Sanchez,” featuring solos by trumpeters Phil Ballyk (’08), graduating senior Charlie Ellis, and Kathryn Meyer (’18).
Pianist and graduating senior Josh McDonald wondered, “Is this what it’s like to let go, to give you more time to grow?” in the lyrics to his composition, “Go!”
There was a medley from “Les Miserables” — one of Lambert’s favorite shows — and “Roll Tide” by Hans Zimmer — one of her favorite composers.
“I just want everyone to make music and have an awesome time in their own little piece of the world,” Lambert said at the concert, fighting tears, before leading the chorus in the final song — “From Now On,” from the 2017 movie-musical “The Greatest Showman.”
From now on
What’s waited till tomorrow starts tonight
… And let this promise in me start
Like an anthem in my heart
From now on ...
And we will come back home
Learning to teach
In recent years Lambert has taught and directed high school students and ensembles, but much of her career was also spent with a younger set.
A Vermont native from Newport, she took up the piano in third grade, then flute a few years later. She knew she loved music, but she also loved science — genetics and neuroscience, to be precise. Scheduling in high school sometimes required choosing music over more math. Then, her first epiphany came at the New England Music Festival.
“We started with the warm-up, we opened our mouths. And I went, omigod, this is what I want to do. I want to teach music.”
A brief pause, then, “No, I want to DO music. I don’t want to teach.”
So off she went to the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam as a pianist, a musical studies major, but she kept hearing from her parents, “What are you going to do with that?”
Sophomore year, Lambert decided to try out teaching. After just a few minutes in front of a first grade class, teaching them the difference between a musical step and a skip, “their little faces lit up, and they got it,” Lambert said. “And I went, oh, this is so cool. I think I want to do this … but not middle school.”
After 35 years of teaching, “I love middle school,” Lambert laughed.
Thinking back, Lambert recalled playing school with her siblings, and she usually assumed the role of the instructor.
“So I guess I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I didn’t really know it,” Lambert said. “It’s just interesting how your path kind of changes.”
After college, Lambert taught music in Canaan public schools for two years, and at Burr & Burton in Manchester for a year. She returned to the student side of the classroom at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to get a master’s degree in music education, and knew she wanted to return to teach in Vermont.
So in 1987, when Stowe had an opening for a music teacher for grades four through 12, “it just fit all the pieces of the puzzle,” Lambert said.
“I wanted the whole gamut. I wanted all the different ages. I wanted the different levels.”
Tricks of the trade
The music program at Stowe schools has shifted over the years. Lambert has organized ensembles to fit the changing population, adding things like music theory and piano lessons as interest arose.
The average high school band size has been about 25 to 35 students, she said; the largest group was the combined middle and high school marching band — a formidable sight in its heyday of 70 students, turning square corners onto Main Street, outfitted in classic green-and-white wool uniforms and hats with huge white feathers.
The uniforms lasted for about 30 years, Lambert said, but when the time came to replace them, she made the switch to matching polo shirts instead of expensive full kits.
The Stowe Rotary Oktoberfest parade was no more, and the zippers were starting to go, Lambert said, so she figured, “Let’s keep it simple.”
Speaking of zippers, Lambert recalled one year in Stowe’s Memorial Day parade when she picked up on the distress of a snare drummer whose pants zipper had broken in the middle of a ceremony at the cemetery. She laughed as she remembered trying to pin the student’s pants, whispering furiously, as he kept up a solemn and respectful cadence on the drum.
Another time, at a concert, she looked up to see a student worriedly holding aloft a few keys that had fallen off a clarinet. “Fake it!” she mouthed, then jury-rigged the instrument with rubber bands and paper clips until it could be repaired.
“The older you get, the wiser you get, the more tricks you learn,” Lambert said.
She has continued to take classes and pursue professional development opportunities throughout her career, and has enjoyed learning from the students as much as they’ve learned from her.
In 2011, the Central Vermont Friends of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra named her an honorary conductor, presenting her a baton in honor of her contributions to music education in the community.
And in 2013, Lambert was named Music Educator of the Year by the Vermont Music Educators Association. “Her students’ performances are highly regarded for their musical precision and artistic interpretation,” the group said at the time, noting contributions to music education in Stowe and across the state.
The next chapter
While the instruments haven’t changed much over 30-plus years, technology and access to music certainly have — and the change has been welcome, Lambert said.
“You don’t have to have the records anymore or the CDs,” Lambert said. She watches videos with her students of both classic music and new sounds, good examples and bad, to give students perspective.
“We get to listen to really good music by really phenomenal people,” Lambert said, “and that’s key to playing good music.”
She also appreciates the connection offered by social platforms.
“I may not talk to somebody for a long time, but (via Facebook) I’m watching their babies growing up, and I get to see how people are doing, and that I love. … I used to write all these notes, and sometimes never see a kid again. And now, I get to see them. And I love that.”
The May 24 concert closed a chapter in Lambert’s life, but now, she said, “it’s my turn to play.”
Lambert’s summers have been full of music — she’s played and led many a pit band for local musicals, sat in orchestra seats and conducted holiday concerts.
This summer, she’ll take a cruise to Alaska with her husband, Gary Lambert — they celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary on May 25 — and she’d love to revisit her passion for science, perhaps contributing to research on the physical and mental effects of music.
“It will be nice to get out into ‘grownup’ world,” Lambert said, but she will miss the kids.
“To get kids to just experience that music high and just appreciate music and have it be part of their life … if I can do that, I’ve done my job.”