MILTON — Avalon Middle School band director David Riggs is retiring after 45 years of teaching music education.
Because he loves what he does, Riggs said he’s never worked a day in his life.
‘I KNEW I WOULDN’T LEAVE’
Riggs studied music education at Troy University in Alabama in 1968 and taught the same subject 11 years at three Alabama schools before moving to Santa Rosa County in 1984. He continued his career at what was then Pace Middle School. When Pace High School took over the middle school around 1991, Avalon Middle and Sims Middle filled the middle school gap and Riggs moved to Avalon Middle School.
The people, he said, kept him at the school.
“I knew I wouldn’t leave … I’ve stayed for the people and the great parental support,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for better administration. I’ve gotten support from all sides. I love the kids. They’ve kept me young. The teachers, faculty — it’s a great place to work.”
Riggs’ job was to introduce his students to music and help them find the instrument they want to play.
“I took countless kids from scratch and guided them to their best instrument … I have kids for three years,” he said. “They start with no idea what they want to play. The secret to a good band is the right kids playing the right instruments.”
‘HE’S A GREAT GUY’
Riggs developed a knack over the years for pairing a student with a particular instrument.
His former students include Pensacola Symphony Orchestra Executive Director and Principal Trombonist Bret Barrow and Olive Baptist Music Director John Tyner.
“There are touchstone moments in your development as a musician and as a person,” Barrow said. “(Riggs) was a big part of that. He made opportunities available for us to make music in school and also outside. It’s sort of the thing that really became the foundation of my love for music and my pursuit of music as a career.
“He’s a great guy. I had such an incredible experience. There are a great group of colleagues of mine that have come out of that, too. I was in a brass quintet that he helped start in sixth grade. That group went through middle school and high school and all through college together at the University of Southern Mississippi.”
Barrow’s best friend is Tyner and he still sees working musicians who learned under Riggs.
“I played a concert (recently) in Mississippi with the Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra. Melissa Turner was playing clarinet. She was a year behind us at the Pace Middle program. There are a lot of his students in this community and others that continue to make music. It’s pretty great.”
Several others have continued playing music in different settings.
“They may be playing different instruments now, but that first one was the key,” Barrow said.
‘HE HAS A JOY FOR WHAT HE DOES’
The school has made an offer to an individual to replace Riggs, someone Riggs himself recommended. The top two candidates have 20 years of experience each, according to Avalon Middle School Principal David Sigurnjak.
As for Riggs, he said he would miss the children.
“Middle school kids provide endless entertainment,” he said.
However, he is looking forward to playing his own music more such as in the Pensacola Bay Concert Band.
“I’m looking forward to playing in groups and not being exhausted wrestling with youngins,” he said.
He will be able to give more of his time to his other hobbies as well, including long-distance cycling, woodworking, camping and reading.
Sigurnjak called Riggs an inspiration.
“He’s teaching grandchildren of former students…,” Sigurnjak said. “I’ve worked with him for six years. He comes to work happy and leaves happy. He has a joy for what he does. If you find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”