Pouring love and music into students’ lives

By MARISA MATA, Student Writer

Anna Marie Rivas (1977) always liked music, and by high school, she acquired a “natural rhythm” for it — being able to pick up on and mirror beats.

Photo courtesy of Anna Marie Rivas

This “natural rhythm” proved to be helpful when she was enrolled in her high school’s marching band and unable to read sheet music. After private lessons, Rivas went on to play for Fresno State’s marching band, and became a music teacher after graduating. As a teacher, Rivas was able to influence the lives of her students through her passion for music.

Rivas started at Fresno State as an instrumental performance major, but was told that she should look into teaching. While Rivas was skeptical about teaching, she decided to start giving lessons to a young girl.

“I got hooked,” Rivas exclaims.

After graduating, Rivas became the band director at Parlier High School — becoming one of the first female band directors in the Valley. In her five years at Parlier, Rivas faced some opposition from students and parents who weren’t used to female authority figures, but she enjoyed being there, pouring herself into the music and her students.

“You never know how you touch these young lives until later on,” Rivas says.

“I had a girl that wanted to join a gang. She had friends that were in the gang, but I had never heard of her getting into any trouble. After graduation the principal came up to me and said that I had changed her mind about joining — I had said something to her that changed her mind the day before she was supposed to be initiated,” Rivas smiles with tears in her eyes.

Years later, Rivas was asked to teach at a newly-opened elementary school. She took the job, and was able to work with young, spirited children for 13 years.

“They [students] see their teacher for one year, but I [got] to see them every year. I [got] to see the progress every year…and I feel blessed in that way.”

Though retired, Rivas stays active with her music. She has played with the Fresno Philharmonic, the Mariposa Orchestra and the Kings Symphony Orchestra. She regularly performs with the Sounds of Freedom Military Concert Band, the Red River Dutchmen Band (a swing group) and the Clovis Community Band. With her bands, Rivas has been able to
perform in New York, Italy and China. She plans on performing in Hawaii for a Pearl Harbor Memorial concert in December of 2016.

“The adrenaline rush [is the best part of performing]. It can get hectic, but once we play that first note it’s like I’m in a different world.”

Rivas states that some of her musical passion and inspiration came from her time at Fresno State, and her advice to current students is, “Stick with it. It’s hard, but do whatever you can. You may not see the big picture in life while striving for your career, but you will. There will be a moment and you’ll say, ‘That’s right…I got that from being at Fresno State.’”