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South Salt Lake Journal

Cottonwood’s Tuckness receives award, makes music fun

Jul 13, 2020 01:23PM ● By Julie Slama

Cottonwood High instrumental director Amber Tuckness smiles with her music students after receiving the UHSAA Distinguished Service Award Music Educator of the Year award. (Photo courtesy of Cottonwood High)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

At the recent Utah High School Activities Association awards ceremony, 17 people were honored for their commitment to coaching or contributing to the success of students from debate to sports, including Cottonwood High music teacher Amber Tuckness.

“She is an amazing educator that has dedicated her life to filling the world with music,” said UHSAA executive committee member Tom Sherwood, who presented Tuckness with the award. “What a great legacy.”

Tuckness received a wooden plaque as the Distinguished Service Award Music Educator of the Year 

and applause not only from her peers at the luncheon (before the pandemic), but also from her students.

“It was during our musical rehearsal and the principal stopped rehearsal saying there was an emergency; there was something happening,” Tuckness said. “Then, she told us right there that I was selected for the honor. It’s nice to be recognized, especially as music doesn’t always get the attention that sports do.”

Principal Terri Roylance, who nominated Tuckness for the award, also recommended her for the Murray City teacher of the year. In 2014, Tuckness was honored as one of the district’s teachers of excellence.

“It motivates me to keep improving, to teach and do the right thing for students. But it’s not just my recognition; it’s the students, and I receive it because of them and what they’re doing,” she said. 

For 23 years, Tuckness has taught about 300 students each year. This year, her class load is nine classes: jazz ensemble, wind ensemble, concert band, orchestra, AP theory and harmony, beginning composition, guitar, piano and credit recovery. 

“Those kids in credit recovery are really grateful to get the last-minute help so they can graduate. It’s been fun getting to know those kids and seeing how I’m able to help them,” she said about the recent addition to her teaching load.

She also directs Granite Youth Symphony one day per week after teaching her full load.

Every year, she prepares student musicians for their region and state group and solo/ensemble contests. She also has taken them on tours and festivals in California and Washington, adding some fun opportunities with each trip. 

In the orchestra pit during musical rehearsals, there are theme days, such as this past year’s “Miss Honey” day where everyone wore yellow and had honey-related snacks. It’s also a tradition to make quesadillas during practices.

However, Tuckness said her favorite activity with her music students during the school year is the Halloween concert.

“We pick music and a theme. Then, I wear a different costume for every song. I’ve flown in as Superman, rappelled on stage as Spiderman, came as Doc Brown in ‘Back to the Future.’ I was 10-feet tall as Hagrid from the ‘Harry Potter’ series and last year, I rode a camel on stage as Aladdin and directed their last piece from the camel. Usually the students don’t know what I’ll be doing, and the audience comes to hear the students play and see what I’ll come out as,” Tuckness said. “The Halloween concert is the best attended and favorite tradition, and it brings a fun note to learning.”