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Love of music drew Mason to teaching

| Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Ringgold High School marching band Director Dawn Mason, at far right, is shown with her staff, from left, Leanne Chamberlin, dance team/majorette instructor; Katie Johnston, color guard instructor; Nate Repp, percussion instructor; and Denise Scheiber, assistant band director.

The call to music came early for Ringgold High School band director Dawn Mason.

Long before taking the helm as band director at her alma mater, she played her first notes on the piano as a second-grader at the former Roosevelt School in New Eagle.

It was there that a music teacher became a guiding influence in Mason's life. She remembers Betty Ferrari as a mentor in the budding stage of her musical development.

“She used to have me play piano in front of the class a couple times a year,” Mason said.

Pushing her past her comfort zone gave Mason the opportunity to feel the excitement of performing and created a drive to perform that lasted long after her elementary years.

Moving onto drums later in elementary school further broadened her musical talents.

Continuing her musical activities in high school, she was active playing in bands at Ringgold, including the orchestra and marching bands, where her younger brother and sister also shared her passion for performing as drummer/bass guitarist and pompom squad member, respectively.

It was during a band festival in high school she first saw the West Virginia University marching band perform. Impressed, she was determined to become a member of that band.

After graduating from Ringgold in 1990, she achieved her dream and became a member of the WVU marching band while pursuing a degree in music education.

After obtaining her degree in 1996, Mason moved to South Carolina, where she became band director at North Myrtle Beach High School.

It was a great experience and a fun place to live, she said.

“I used to play a lot of gigs in the summer,” Mason said.

Now back living in the Mon Valley, and closer to parents Dave and Diana Mason of Carroll Township, she is in her fourth year as Ringgold band director. She spends her time planning performances, choosing music, and mentoring her students.

Her involvement with the school's music program is extensive, including leading the marching, jazz, and concert bands, a championship, 25-member indoor drum line, planning for the annual musical, and an upcoming performance at Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

It's a labor of love to pass her knowledge and passion for music along to her students.

“I want them to be able to experience what I got to experience…the band trips, all those memories,” she said.

Her caring nature shows in her relationship with her students. She takes the time to listen to her students' interests.

“The hardest part of my job is finding well-written music that the kids enjoy playing and the crowd enjoys hearing,” she explained.

She works to accomplish this task by sitting and discussing ideas with staff and students. It's a months-long process in many cases from brainstorming to performing, but it's worth the time, she said.

Mason is a beloved teacher and guiding force to many students and is always there to lend a helping hand or motivation when needed, according to students.

“Ms. Mason is awesome. She helped me learn everything I need to know about anything. She's been my teacher as long as I can remember, and she's always been there for me anytime I needed her,” said senior trumpet player Jessie Martin.

With some students beginning high school band as early as eighth grade, her time as their teacher can last up to five years – as opposed to most teachers having a student for a year.

“I get to see the students learn and grow and prepare for college. I get the most enjoyment out of that,” she said.

Miranda Startare is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.