When I first started teaching band in 1998, I was VERY isolated. I didn’t even know very many band directors in my local area. I was only part time, showing up on campus right before my 1st class and leaving right after my 2nd class…I had kids to pick up from daycare. Most of my music contacts were in the performance sector.
By 2000, my third year of teaching, I became full time. As I participated in events like solo and ensemble and all-city band, I got to know many of the directors. But my kids were still small. This was a time when I needed a mentor the most but when I had one the least.
In 2005, I moved to a suburban high school. In some ways it was like starting over. At the local events, it was a different group of directors. But they seemed to have one thing in common…they all seemed old to me (maybe older is a better word).
Fast forward to now…
When I look around at band director gatherings now, I am one of the oldest. How did I get here? Are people looking up to me like I looked up to others? I’m just realizing how little I know!
I have the opportunity to mentor and encourage others now. One of the ways I do that is through my podcast for music teachers. As I reflect on 5 decades of life and over two decades in teaching – I fondly recall some of my greatest mentors and what made them great.
The 5 Band Directors You Meet In Heaven
I first had the chance to meet Ed in 2000 at the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, where he brought his Dry Creek Dixie Dawgs to perform. I was performing with the Rough Riders Dixieland Band. We did a few selections with Ed’s group and was able to mentor and encourage them. At the same time I found a teaching colleague who became a mentor and a friend.
I was immediately impressed with Ed, first with the quality of his student performing groups and then with Ed the person. He is humble, works hard and willing to give a listening ear to a young director needing advice. Even now, every time I speak with Ed, I walk away feeling like I’m a better teacher and person. Ed offers advice and encouragement, and he does it in a way that doesn’t allow you to rest on past accomplishments. One must always strive to the next level.
The great thing about Ed is that he realizes it’s a journey. Every band program is different, and although sometimes he has disagreed, he has been able to see why I might do things differently. We share an Italian heritage and a love for emotional – not just technical – conducting. The best conductors I know are at least part Italian.
During trying times at school, Ed offered a ton of encouragement. It helped me make the decision to stay. Longevity is a huge factor in developing a great program. Although it’s not the only factor, it is one we often miss the importance of. Ed had been at his school for over 20 years. Although he is retired, he is still active in many areas of music.
I have only gotten to know Dale in the last 8 years or so, and more closely in the last 3-4, but I remember hearing his name as early as 1993, when I was still in the Army band at Fort Carson.
Dale is the most down to earth, humble person I know. Sometimes at local music meetings, you can see someone’s ego attached to their shoulder, like a little elf. Why would someone want to carry that dead weight around all the time? Dale carries no such weight. He stands tall – literally – and you can see he is proud of his students and proud of his work, but it’s the pride in a job well done, not due to ego.
Although Dale is “retired”, he still works “half-time” at a 5A school where he is the only band teacher. I would venture to say that it’s a full time job with half time pay, especially during marching season. It’s obvious when talking to Dale that he loves his students and that he loves his fellow directors. He is always willing to take time for a cup of coffee to talk shop or just talk about life. Did you know Dale has been a pastor at various times in his life? Ask him about it, and about his faith.
Many of you know him as the guy who heads up the Regional Concert Band Festival in Colorado. The festival is always well organized and smooth running with great clinicians and adjudicators. This is because Joe takes pride in his work. His wife Carol is often with him at music events. She is like a mom to so many of us. She does a lot of the behind the scenes work too. She greets everyone with a hug. This is more important than you might realize.
I got to know Joe through a mentorship program that one of the music programs in our state was offering…free mentors to come and work with your band. Did I mention they were free? Many directors do not take the organization up on this offer.
Joe was at my school for a clinic. He mentioned the fact that I did not have a tuba player in that particular group. I replied with “I just don’t have anyone playing tuba.” He wouldn’t let me fall back on that. He said, “Have you asked anyone?” I admitted that I hadn’t. The next week in class I asked for volunteers who were interested in learning tuba. I immediately got several people who wanted to try. This has also worked in my current middle school!
An interesting bit of trivia… Joe was Ed’s mentor, who became my mentor. I in turn am mentoring people too. What you do today has an effect for many generations!
You’ll never meet someone as hard working and dedicated as Orlando, yet he is down to earth, friendly and humble. Orlando has achieved success in his program, yet he still finds time to give a word of encouragement and support to those who need it. He also puts on a terrific jazz and marching festival. His booster parents know how to take care of directors.
Orlando and I are in a competition for best-looking band director and band that has the most fun. I definitely have him beat on the former, but he is a very close second on the latter.
When I was a “new” band director, new to high school but I really had been teaching for 7 years and was approaching age 40, I brought my jazz band to his festival. My drummer didn’t make it to the bus that morning. This drummer was hot (I’m lying, he just thought he was hot). Orlando’s son filled in for us and did 3x better than our regular drummer. It was an eye opener for the jazz band. They could see where the band could go if we had a great drummer instead of just one who was ok. That drummer didn’t last to the next semester, but the memories of the jazz band did.
Anyone who has taught in Colorado for any length of time knows Jess Girardi. He retired from Englewood HS, where he had a very successful program. Jess has remained active well into retirement encouraging young directors and teaching adjudication sessions. If you sit down with him in conversation for 10 minutes, you feel like you walk away with an encyclopedia’s worth of information. He’s smart, likable, friendly, and lends a listening ear, plus he’s Italian.
Jess has a quiet faith that is important to him. I believe it guides him and makes him the person he is. There is no guile in Jess. What you see is what you get.
When Hosea finally “retired”, he had 40+ years teaching experience. The only reason he retired is that he found out at a retirement workshop that he was working for just 10% of his pay (with retirement he earned almost 90% of his salary). He retired, but continued to substitute the maximum number of days he was allowed to and also worked for Meeker Music. He earned more in retirement than he did working full time.
Hosea became a mentor and then a friend. I had been teaching for 6 years at a private school. I had no teaching license. I began a program that allowed me to earn my license. I needed to find a band teacher with a master’s degree who would mentor me. Ken at Meeker Music suggested Hosea, and that started our friendship.
Hosea met with me for more than the required amounts of time mandated by the college. I know he wasn’t paid much, but he didn’t do it for the money anyway. When the year through the college was over, we continued to meet regularly. Hosea always had advice and encouragement for me. He always had a positive attitude. Illness took him from this earth much too soon, so that’s why he is number 6 on this list of 5 directors. Hosea has already preceded us to heaven and is conducting the community band that will welcome the rest of us.
No out of tune players
Instruments work perfectly all the time
Reeds never squeak
Valves never break
There are no poor attitudes
Tuba players move in all the time
I’m looking forward to sitting in the sax section (wait, are there saxes in heaven).
Find a mentor TODAY!
***James is a band and orchestra teacher at a Title 1 middle school. He is the author of Forgive: One man’s story of being molested, and 40 Ways to Make Money as a Musician. He hosts The Music Ed Podcast. James also is a motivational youth speaker sharing a message of “Your Past Doesn’t Define Your Future.” ***James is the author of 5 books, including I Cannoli Imagine: My Italian Life. You can reach him HERE.