Music teacher Christine Riederer sees music as more than just notes on a page—she thinks of it as its own language.
Riederer, who teaches music at Niagara-Wheatfield High School, received the award for excellence in music education on April 25 at the Buffalo Philharmonic/Niagara County Music Educators Association’s annual Celebration of Music Education.
“I was surprised,” Riederer said. “I didn’t see it coming. It was a really nice surprise. When I got the call I was like ‘Oh my gosh! This is so awesome!’”
The honor acknowledges her dedicated teaching over the past 21 years at the high school, in which she conducts the concert and symphonic bands, teaches music theory and instrumental lessons.
Riederer, who grew up in northeast Detroit, said at a young age she felt a strong connection to music. First, she started off with piano in fourth grade and in fifth grade she began playing the trumpet.
“I begged my parents for music lessons,” Riederer said. “I just always wanted to play an instrument.”
While honing her craft as a young kid, she spent six summers studying at Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan and one summer at Boston’s Tanglewood Institute.
She continued her music education into college where she received a dual bachelor’s degree in trumpet performance and music education at the University of Michigan followed by a master of music education degree from Bowling Green State University. After graduating, she taught band and orchestra in Ohio and Michigan, along with trumpet at the Interlochen Arts Camp.
During her time at graduate school, Riederer met her husband, Richard, a Buffalo native, and after the couple eventually married they decided to move to the Western New York area in the summer of 1993. Actively looking for jobs in the area, Riederer was offered her teaching job at Niagara-Wheatfield High School that same summer.
“I think the quality of the symphonic band has been improved greatly since her time at the high school,” said Niagara-Wheatfield High School principal Tim Carter. “We send many students to both local and state competitions who are not only representing, but winning, these competitions because of Christine and the other music teachers.”
Carter considers Riederer a major asset to the high school’s music department based on her dedication to the students, her dedication to her craft and her passion for music. He also recognizes all kids learn differently, with some excelling more in school when they’re able to express themselves through music or other arts programs.
“I think education is not just about the four core subjects,” Carter said. “They’re saying there’s a direct correlation between students who are dedicated to music and doing well in other subjects.”
Riederer explains how music, unlike English, math, or history, is easily translatable to students from all different backgrounds and languages.
“It’s such a cool subject because it’s an international language,” Riederer said. “I could go over to Japan and pick up the same piece of music and those students would understand what I wanted and what we were trying to convey through the notes on the page.”
She says if she simply stood at the podium without saying anything her students would be able to decipher, by observing her gestures, what she’s trying to communicate to them.
“I enjoy teaching music in all settings and age levels because it’s music,” Riederer said. “It’s so hard to put into words what that means, but the kids are able to express themselves through no words at all.”
After years of training in elementary and middle school, once music students reach the high school level they are able to start conveying specific moods and styles with the notes they’re playing, as well as expressing certain emotions.
“If kids are happy, angry, sad, they can relate those moods in all the different styles of music that we’re doing, so it gives them an outlet to express themselves,” Riederer said.
“You’re learning a language really, and the mechanics behind it, the physical aspects of it, it’s difficult. When you get to the high school, it’s like all that hard work paid off in a huge way and now we get to play all this incredible music and it’s fun for the kids and me.”
After all her years of music training, it has surely paid off for Riederer as well, as she’s performed with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Erie County Wind Ensemble, Buffalo Silver Cornet Band, Clarence, Amherst and Cheektowaga Symphonies and played various shows at Shea’s, Artpark, and the Riviera Theatre. Her two instruments of choice are still piano and trumpet.
Having taken part in several memorable music concerts on her own, she says her favorite performances are the band concerts where she gets to conduct her high school students.
“We can take a raw product and polish it and those are my favorite performances, even more so than professional ensembles, because I get that enjoyment of seeing the growth,” Riederer said. “I just love hearing the kids and seeing what they can do.”
Riederer will be performing with the Buffalo Silver Cornet Band at 7:30 p.m. tonight in Slee Hall at University at Buffalo. Tickets are $10 at the door and $5 for seniors and students.