SEARCY When Cindy Burrow lays down her baton at the end of the 2014-15 school year, she will be putting the final touch on a career that has included interactions with hundreds of students, copious miles logged on big yellow buses and countless hours of band rehearsals. All that might not sound appealing to some folks, but for Burrow, it has been a labor of love.
“I am thankful and blessed to have been associated with such fine, honorable musical experts who love teaching and care deeply about what they do,” Burrow said of her years working with former band director Claude Smith and, since 2004, Tony Luzzi. Percussion specialist Matt Hines was added to the band program in fall 2013.
“It would have been hard not to be in love with the high school band. Those students and I have worked so long together, and they have developed not only musical maturity, but also the maturity required to have what I call a lighter moment in rehearsals and then, two seconds later, go right back to work,” she said of the students at the Searcy Public Schools with whom she has worked over the past 15 years. “We have always had high expectations for the Searcy band. We want a lot for our students, so we expect a lot from them.”
Burrow spent five years as an English teacher at Searcy before Smith approached her about returning to her “first love” — music education.
“Mrs. Burrow did her student teaching with me before she became a full-time teacher,” said Smith, who is now the high school principal for the Searcy Public Schools. “From those early days, I knew she would be a true asset to our program, and she has definitely proved that to be true. She has left an indelible mark upon hundreds of students over the years and will be missed.”
Although Burrow has become a fixture on the sidelines at football games and onstage at band concerts, her life wasn’t always so settled. She met her husband of 40 years, Dan, while both were students at the University of Arkansas. He was finishing his education, and she was just getting started. After the two were married, they subsequently began a journey that took them to Virginia, Ohio, and, eventually, back to Arkansas, where they would raise their three children and Burrow would receive a bachelor’s degree in music education from Harding University in Searcy and a master’s degree in English.
She recalled that her son, Jason, was one of her band students, but said the situation wasn’t as difficult as some would think because when they entered the classroom, the relationship of mother-son was left in the hallway.
“I remember once, Jason was trying to get my attention, and he kept saying ‘Mom, Mom.’ His friend turned to him and said, ‘She is never going to answer you when you call her that. He said, ‘Mrs. Burrow,’ and I acknowledged him right away,” she said with a chuckle.
A typical day for Burrow, Luzzi, and now Hines, has meant traveling between three campuses to teach classes from beginning band at Southwest Middle School, to Ahlf Junior High School and Searcy High School. Although the job is a lot to handle, the teachers get along well.
“My first college band director, Eldon Janzen, once said that the most amazing thing about band is the quality of the people with which you work. That has proven true,” she said. “One of my favorite parts of the day is the 20 minutes when Mr. Luzzi, Mr. Hines and I get to sit down, eat cheese and crackers, and discuss what is going on with the band.”
“Mrs. Burrow is a treasure to the Searcy band program,” Luzzi said. “She always says that she wants the best from us because she wants the best for us. She is a true motivator. In thinking of our experiences together, not only has she taught me to be a better person in the process; I am blessed to have been able to work with her for the last 11 years. It has been a wonderful experience.”
Hines, as the newest member of the Searcy band program, had this to say about Burrow: “Mrs. Burrow is one of the most caring and dedicated individuals that I have ever met. From the moment I first arrived in Searcy, she has been willing and eager to help me in any possible way, and for that, I will always be grateful.”
When asked to convey what it means to have a career in music education, Burrow pointed to a typewritten quote that is taped above her computer in her office at the Searcy High School Performing Arts Center.
It reads: “I have often wondered, ‘What am I doing in this world?’ Very few of my students will ever pursue this as a profession, so I decided that I would help them grow up.”
Burrow explained that she had written down the quote, which came from a 95-year-old Russian former prima ballerina who was being interviewed on a morning news program several years ago about her life as a ballet instructor in New Jersey. Although the name of the woman has since faded from Burrow’s memory, the sentiment is the best summation of what it means to teach music to high school students that Burrow said she could ever imagine.
Although it is undeniable that Burrow will miss reporting for duty when band rehearsals kick off the first week in August, she said she looks forward to spending more time with family, especially her five grandchildren. It is also certain that Burrow will leave the Searcy Public Schools with a treasure trove filled with memories of the lives she has touched, the friendships she has made and a life’s work fulfilled.