The halls at Argyle Secondary have been more alive with the sound of music since Frances Roberts arrived 30 years ago.
“My earliest memory of being drawn to singing would be hearing my mother sing; she is also a soprano – like me,” says Roberts, a multifaceted music teacher at Argyle.
Her mom sang around the house all the time and Roberts has carried on the tradition in the school. Just ask some Argyle staff, she says.
Roberts has always been the “choir teacher,” even though she has also taught band and orchestra as part of the
over the years.
Currently, she helms six choirs and a string ensemble.
Connecting with students is what Frances finds most rewarding as a music educator, along with “goosebump-y moments” that arise from singing together.
Roberts first tapped her foot inside Argyle in 1988 when she did her teaching practicum with Janet Warren, who built up the choral program at Argyle, and Ken Osterreicher, a former band director at the school.
Distilling 30 years’ worth of musical memories down to a few favourites is hard for Roberts – when every day is a gift.
“The sheer joy of knowing that I will be spending the better part of my day singing,” she says.
Roberts’s songful life has taken her to surreal performance spaces: a salt mine in Poland; Johann Sebastian Bach’s tomb; the Great Wall of China; and inside St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.
Under her leadership, Argyle senior choirs have toured throughout
North America, Europe, the Baltics, and China. Closer to home, these choirs have performed with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and Vancouver Chamber Choir.
This past March, Roberts explored the intersection of music and science with Argyle students – in what would be the school’s last live concert before the pandemic.
Roberts is a passionate, hard-working, creative, and dedicated music educator, according to her colleagues.
Therefore, when Roberts recently received the Outstanding Secondary Music Educator Award for 2020 – it came as no surprise to Argyle principal Kim Jonat.
“She has built a choral community where students feel safe to sing, express themselves, explore their talents, take risks, and have fun while learning,” says Jonat.
“There are hundreds of students, families, and staff that she has touched with her musical talents over the years and I couldn’t think of a more deserving person for this award.”
British Columbia Music Educators' Association, with its awards, honours those who exemplify a high standard of achievement and professionalism.
Roberts is a clinician with the BCMEA, and completed her Masters in Choral Directorship at UBC.
In the summers, Roberts teaches at the West Coast Amateur Musicians Society’s camp at Quest University, where her students range in age from 12 to 90.
She also works as an adjudicator and clinician at choral festivals across Western Canada.
Roberts’s nominators and colleagues commented on her attention to foundational music skills, her outstanding scaffolding of students’ learning and curriculum progressions from grade 8 through 12 – and her willingness to take risks and champion new music.
“She challenges students to stretch themselves and push their limits,” says Jonat.
Frances Roberts and her choral students perform at the World Kindness Concert in 2011.
Roberts says she feels fortunate for the many supportive colleagues she has worked with over the years at Argyle, including her “amazing teaching partner” Diana Chan, Director of Bands.
Many Argyle music alumni stay in touch and reunite annually for a performance at Christmastime.
“I find it so heartwarming and gratifying to hear from former students about how they have kept music in their life and reflect on their school choir memories,” says Roberts.
One such Argyle graduate is Allison Warren, who now sings with the auditioned Good Noise Vancouver Gospel Choir.
"Mrs. Roberts inspired in me an enduring love of choral music. I am so grateful to her for giving me the tools I needed to keep choral music in my life,” says Warren.
Roberts knows she is the lucky one – to make a career out of creating music with youth every day.
“This can be the most joyful and meaningful activity you can ever do,” she says.