Ridgewood teacher honored by Springfield symphony

The Springfield Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of music director and conductor Peter Stafford Wilson. Contributed photo
The Springfield Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of music director and conductor Peter Stafford Wilson. Contributed photo

One of Michael Weller’s earliest recollections is of watching the Springfield Symphony Orchestra at the old Memorial Hall. It wouldn’t be the last.

The Springfield native would be influenced by — and in turn himself influence — the city’s music scene in numerous ways over the years.

“My development mirrors the symphony’s in many ways,” Weller said.

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That’s partly why the music teacher at Springfield’s Ridgewood School earned the Springfield Symphony Orchestra’s 2017 Music Educator of the Year Award for 2016-2017.

Weller will be honored at the symphony’s performance Saturday, Feb. 25, by Maestro Peter Stafford Wilson.

The Educator of the Year Award is open to educators in public, private and parochial schools in kindergarten through grade 12 in Clark, Champaign or Greene counties. Weller was selected by the symphony board’s education committee.

“I’m honored and humbled to know I’d be considered by my school and the community,” he said.

Weller’s musical training reads like a who’s who of local music from recent years. He graduated from North High School, where he played first horn for John Smarelli, the symphony’s longtime concert master, and he named Fritz Holker, Richard Chenowith and Colvin Bear as other influential mentors.

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Weller also played locally in the Springfield Youth Symphony under John Ferritto, and later for the Fellowship Winds quintet and the Wittenberg University Symphonic Band.

“I want people to realize there is a common thread – the great teachers that have supported me through the years,” Weller said.

He chose Wittenberg University to study music upon graduation in 1976, but only lasted a year before taking work as a construction contractor, fearful as many music educator jobs were being cut due to the economy of the time.

Music never left his system, and in 2000 Weller returned to Wittenberg to finish his degree, graduating in 2004.

He began at Ridgewood in 2005, starting the first instrumental program in the school’s 87-year history, purchasing and refurbishing instruments to get it running.

Students in grade 4-8 all participate in one of the school’s three bands, and he teaches students in kindergarten through third grade as well.

Weller is also Ridgewood’s school musical director, and the school thought enough of his symphony honor to postpone a performance of “The Wizard of Oz” that conflicted on that Saturday to Sunday afternoon so they could support him.

He’s also proud to have his mom flying in from Florida.

“When you’re successful, it’s colleagues, the parents and faculty that get you there,” Weller said.

Symphony Director of Operations and Education Alek Peugh said the organization was happy for the variety of this year’s nominees.

“Every year there is some challenge to choose. Mr. Weller’s nomination was so strongly written, he became the clear choice,” she said. “He’s someone helping Springfield due to the help he received in Springfield.”

While Educator of the Year recipients are normally recognized at intermission, the Feb. 25 concert will not have one. Peugh said Weller will be honored at some point during the program.

Tickets cost $30-56. For more information, call 937-328-3874 or go to www.springfieldsym.org.