Amy Budka was describing some of her “paraphernalia,” collected over more than two decades of teaching music and directing stage productions in Bedford. “I have a bin with T-shirts, each with the name of a play and all the kids,” she laughed. “I look at the names and think about how great they were.”
This summer Budka retired after 23 years on the faculty at John Glenn Middle School.
Budka said she had been considering retirement for a couple of years, and the pandemic sealed the decision. She recounted, “When Covid first hit, I was teaching seventh- and eighth-grade chorus. The last year-and-a-half, we haven’t been able to sing at all in school.” She called that “devastating.”
She said she taught virtually last year until returning in April. “As we started trying to figure out the rest of the school year, all of the traditions couldn’t happen. For 23 years I got eighth graders ready to sing for ‘Moving On.’ It’s not like I can celebrate my last concert in Bedford – it never happened.”
Budka spoke lovingly of “the whole Music Department. We are so close – every person who has ever worked there.”
Music has been a central part of Budka’s life since childhood. “My mother sang in a choir — she was very musical — and I sang in a choir in church since I was six years old,” she related. “I took piano lessons for several years and in seventh grade, I started playing percussion in a band. After that, I was a drummer. But I do like to sing. I used to sing with several adult choral groups, and I hope to get back to singing with adults again.”
Budka studied percussion with the renowned Vic Firth, transferring from the Boston Conservatory of Music to join his classes at the New England Conservatory, where she earned her undergraduate degree in percussion performance.
Right out of college, she and her husband bought the Malden School of Music. While supervising a staff of music teachers, Budka said, she began substitute teaching in Saugus “and found it intriguing.” She was especially excited about “a style of teaching called Orff methodology. It specializes in xylophone and percussion instruments and dancing and singing to little kids – all the things I love to do together.”
She ultimately earned her master’s in music education from the Boston Conservatory of Music.
Her full-time teaching career began in Saugus for a couple of years. Then she moved to Lane and Davis Schools, succeeding Phyllis Weiss. After five years in the elementary school in the town of Harvard, Budka returned to Bedford, this time at JGMS. Her son Ken was excited about the move, “and that’s what really gave me permission.”
“Middle school kids love everything to do with drumming. I love teaching elementary, but when I was offered the opportunity to come back to Bedford at the middle school level it was very refreshing,” she related. “Working with older kids in chorus is very satisfying. Middle school kids can do amazing things singing – eighth-grade boys can do four-part harmony.”
“Part of the job was that I would take over the spring musical. The job always has been general music, chorus, and the spring musical. About 10 years ago we added theater arts as part of the core music curriculum. So now it’s the Department of Bedford Performing Arts, including theater and dance.”
Over the years, she said, “Every play was different. The style of music is always changing. We’ve done traditional plays to others that are mostly rock music.” One summer the theater camp presented Pirates of Penzance. Budka said she told the cast, “Guys, this is an opera.”
Even without the two-plus decades of introducing middle school students to music, Budka has cemented her status as a memorable contributor to the local quality of life. For 29 years she directed the theatrical productions for the Recreation Department summer day camp, now called Summer Adventures.
She was recruited about 30 years ago while teaching music at Lane School by a faculty colleague, Ilsa Gottlieb, founder and director of the summer camp. “She said, ‘We need someone to teach theater camp.’ I did every summer until Covid hit.” Budka has special memories of the annual counselors’ show for the campers that she helped direct.
Barry Low, the former Music Department chair, helped recruit her to JGMS, Budka said. They worked together on the summer stock.
She is gratified by former students who have excelled in music, including those who pursued advanced degrees at Juilliard. “It wouldn’t be fair for me to start rattling off names,” Budka said. “One group I called the ‘dream team’ because they were amazing from sixth grade on. Then a new ‘dream team’ came, and it keeps rolling.” Jennifer Jones Scott, one of her earliest Bedford alumni, now teaches ballet and works with Budka as choreographer at theater camp each summer.
“There were not a lot of women in percussion when I was studying,” Budka observed. “I’m definitely supportive of anybody, whatever their gender, who wants to study percussion. I play in a lot of local orchestras and it’s so much fun to play. When they don’t have enough percussionists, they get high school kids to fill in. The kids are so talented.”
Budka saluted the impact of Patrons of Music Students (POMS). “There’s nothing like the support you get from parents,” she said. “Parents’ being helpful feeds our programs’ being so successful.”
She said she was involved for years with the Massachusetts Music Educators Association, through which she met “a lot of great people. We always send a bunch of kids from Bedford to festivals every year.”
Budka’s two children are also pursuing careers in the performing arts. Joseph, a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago, is involved with set design and “loves the technical aspects of theater,” she said. Ken, who majored in music business on his way to a degree at UMass Lowell, has been teaching guitar for more than 15 years. “He is still very attached to Bedford,” his mother said.
Budka is looking at various retirement directions. “I might teach more privately – I would really love to teach piano,” she mused. “I probably will set up a studio.”
And then there are the boxes of VHS tapes, including many of the Bedford High School musicals. Budka said she bought a device that converts VHS to digital format, “and that’s what I’m doing.”
And as for performances, “For now I’m not sure I want to be inside a theater where there is singing. I would love to see a Broadway show, but so far it has just been outdoor music.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at email@example.com, or 781-983-1763