Dr. David Neves is the Director of Youth Wind Ensembles for the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra and Music School and coordinator of music education at the University of Rhode Island. In June, 2017, Dr. Neves retired from his position as Director of Fine and Performing Arts for the Needham Public Schools, Needham, Massachusetts, completing 41 years of full time work in public school music education. Prior to Needham, Dr. Neves served 29 years as a Music Teacher, Supervisor and Director of Bands in Scituate, Rhode Island.
We asked him a few questions about his life and art-making in Rhode Island for our new series, Rhode Island Cultural Anchors.
RISCA: Give us a brief overview of your day yesterday- what did you do in both your personal and professional life.
DN: My typical day begins with a daily walk and exercise program to clear my mind, work on my body (which needs a LOT of work) and generally get energized for the work. Being retired from full-time work enables me to spend my time doing what I love to do on my own terms. Currently, that means spending about 2 hours a day playing my horns (saxophone, clarinet, flute), 1 to 2 hours reviewing /studying scores for Rhode Island Philharmonic Youth Wind Ensemble (RIPYWE) rehearsals and future concert repertoire, and then on to work for my position as URI Coordinator of Music Education. This might include reviewing student teacher reflections, videos of teaching, prepping for upcoming seminar lectures, and researching topics and trends in music education. I also, at times, am preparing for workshops, clinics, and other supportive meetings I take on with local music teachers, school bands, and music programs, who reach out for advice. I also am able to keep up with professional readings on music education and our musical culture in general. Finally, in addition to my conducting, playing, and clinicing, I have a few private saxophone students who I adore that I teach weekly. In addition to the pure joy of teaching them, it keeps me engaged with many of the same challenges that my URI student teachers deal with in their placements. So, in a nutshell, I spend my days only doing what I absolutely love to do: teach music, play music, support music educators, promote music education as a vital part of every single student’s education, and keep myself growing musically and intellectually — while still having the extra time for the most important joys of life, my family–my wife Janice, my daughters Kristin, Jennifer and Amanda, and of course my two insanely wonderful grandsons, Alex and William!
RISCA: Why do you make Rhode Island your home, and how did you end up here?
DN: My parents, both immigrants from Portugal, chose to make RI their home, and thus mine. The rich mixture of our Portuguese heritage with the potpourri of the entire American melting pot is easily accessible, and always visible in our state. I guess I am a bit of a “home body” having been born here, grown up here, gone to school nearby (Boston), and then with my professional life primarily here and in nearby Massachusetts. Though I’ve never called any other place home, I’ve traveled enough, and seen enough to know that RI is still where I always want to come back to – my heritage and history is here, and I love being able to relive it and be reminded of how lucky I’ve been every single day. AND, at the same time, being so relatively “close” to other incredible cultural centers, including Boston, NYC, Canada and even Western Europe makes it a great place to call my home base.
RISCA: Why do you do what you do? What inspires you, drives you, to create or enable the creation of art?
DN: I can’t imagine a world without it – and I know the power of music to transform lives for the better – the more music, the more joy and beauty in the world! I cannot thank enough my parents for mandating that I start taking lessons on my saxophone when I was 8, and “making” me practice! Neither of them were musicians in any way yet, for some reason, they just knew it was a super great thing to make their kids do! Thanks Mom and Dad!!
RISCA: What is one thing you think the art community in Rhode Island needs?
DN: We need to change the pervasive concept that so many adults, including some of our own artist/musicians and most educational leaders, have: that high level music experiences are just for those who are especially gifted and talented, or have an ingrained personal desire for it. Music is no different then math: some people figure it out more easily and quickly then others, but EVERYONE has the ability to be musically expressive in some way, and our educational institutions need to make it a priority for all students through college. This will eventually transform all adults into much more collegial, connected, expressive, sensitive, empathetic human beings whose lives will be enhanced and transformed via intimate involvement with the beauty of the arts. RI started down a great path back in the early 2000s, when we “mandated” that all students needed to demonstrate proficiency in one of the arts in order to graduate. We need to revisit that and make it authentic again for all students.