Every year, Rumson Fair Haven Regional High School recognizes the hard work and dedication of one staff member, and names him or her “Teacher of the Year.” This year, that award was given to Bill Grillo, RFH’s resident music man.
Growing up, Mr. Grillo did not always want to be a music teacher. While majoring in Jazz Performance as an undergraduate student, he decided to enroll in a five-year program to get his Masters degree in education. He looked to many teachers as inspiration, specifically his longtime percussion teacher, who taught him from eighth grade and throughout high school, as well as as a professor at his college.
Mr. Grillo teaches AP Music Theory, Music Theory, Songwriting and Recording, and Percussion Ensemble. On top of teaching these electives, he also is the fearless leader of the Marching Band, Jazz Band, and Pit Orchestra. While juggling these classes with these time-demanding activities can be a struggle, Grillo feels as if now is the perfect time in his life to take on such a heavy workload.
“I don’t have a family of my own yet, so I’m at a good point in my life where I can dedicate a lot of time to this school.”
Grillo has always had a passion for jazz bands, as it was his major in college. However, recently he has found more and more enjoyment from being the conductor of the pit orchestra.
“Throughout my life, I’ve worked in a lot of theaters, mostly as a drummer in a pit orchestra. I never ever saw myself conducting a pit orchestra; that’s something I really thought I would never have to do. Now, I really enjoy doing that because the culture here is really supportive of theatre.”
Conducting the pit orchestra led to one of Mr. Grillo’s proudest accomplishments at RFH, conducting the score to the 2011 spring musical, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
“Personally, there were many points throughout that production that I thought there was no way that I could do it, and there was no way that the pit orchestra could do it. It’s some of Stephen Sondheim’s hardest stuff. When we finished that Friday night performance, I couldn’t believe that we not only got through it, but it was extremely, extremely good.”
According to Mr. Grillo, the best part about his job is working with extremely talented people. The worst part of his job is paperwork.
“I do significantly less [paperwork] than, let’s say, a math teacher or an English teacher. I could never do their job because of all the paperwork. But then again, they also really love to teach math and English, so that’s the tradeoff.”
I asked this year’s Teacher of the Year to offer advice to any RFH students who are considering teaching as a profession.
“You have to find a balance between being a friendly person and being a straight-forward teacher. You’re with your students 180 days of the year, so it can’t be all business all the time. You have to develop a relationship, but you can’t let that relationship get out of hand to the point where they don’t respect you or do any of your work.”
Over the past four years, Mr. Grillo has gotten better and better at developing this balance with his students.
Grillo is thrilled to be working here at RFH. He has developed an outstanding relationship with the administration.
“The fact that the administration here trusts me to do what I do makes me really proud. On a daily basis, they don’t bug me, they don’t look over my shoulder, they put a lot of faith in me to run everything smoothly and run the department how I want.”
While Mr. Grillo loves it here at RFH, he offered me some things that he would like to have added to the school.
“I would like to see some days built into the schedule that break the regular mold of the routine. When I was student teaching in Cherry Hill, they had a multi-cultural day where, basically, they had a bunch of workshops and assemblies that were based around other cultures. It was really educational and it broke up the regular routine.”
While he’s not molding the minds of young musicians or winning awards for his masterful conducting, Mr. Grillo enjoys cooking with his girlfriend. The best meal that he ever made was a linguini with a white wine butter sauce and scallops. However, he is clueless when it comes to baking.
“I can’t bake. I literally tried simple brownies from a package, and I screwed it up.”
Mr. Grillo’s passion for music and teaching was extremely evident during my interview. I encourage any underclassmen who are remotely interested in music or music theory to sign up for one of Mr. Grillo’s classes. Prospective students need not to worry, Grillo does not play favorites. When I asked him who his favorite students were, he respectfully declined.
Clearly his passion has rubbed off on many of his students.
“Grillo is a great guy because he’s just as much a musician as he is a teacher–he’s always eager to learn about new music and talk about different musicians. Aside from that, he’s just a gentleman and a scholar. He can bring out the music in anyone,” said senior Ben Sherman.
“I’ve been with Grillo since his first day at RFH, and I have loved every moment of it,” said senior Josh Reed.
“Grillo is an amazing music teacher who can work in a classroom setting yet also is always available for extra help. No matter how hard a topic may seem, after Grillo has explained it, it’s simple,” said senior Clare Fitzgerald.
Award-winning thespian Harry Best also chimed in on Mr. Grillo: “Mr. Grillo is wonderful to work with during the musicals. Over the years he has taught me so much about music, and he’s always patient and understanding while students attempt to grasp some of the more difficult songs. His Teacher of the Year Award is well deserved.”
Grillo has left his mark on many alumni. Class of 2011 alum Gabby Kenny told me, “Grillo has actually been one of those teachers that was a life-changer for me and my friends who knew him during my time at RFH, and I didn’t even have him for a teacher! I worked with him in the musicals and concerts, and he was the first person in my life that empowered me to think about pursuing vocal music as a career. No matter how sassy he may get at the end of the day at a long Tower Players practice, I have a deep respect and my hat’s off to one of RFH’s finest. Congrats Grill, YOU DID IT!”
This positive sentiment was echoed with every student and alum I spoke to. When asked what winning Teacher of the Year meant to him, Mr. Grillo responded in an expectedly humble and endearing manner.
“Since being given the award, it’s been really nice to have the other faculty say ‘Congratulations’ and ‘Well deserved.’ Obviously, there’s so many other teachers who have been here longer and work equally as hard, and maybe they’re not as noticed in the community because they’re in a classroom all day. But it’s definitely nice to go to work and know that people respect what you do. It’s nice that people have faith in you.”
In a world in which the arts are growingly and unjustly perceived as less and less important, it is wonderful to see a music teacher as dedicated and beloved as Grillo receive this recognition. Congratulations, Mr. Grillo, on a well deserved Teacher of the Year Award.