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Wes Lowe

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Wes Lowe

Wes Lowe

Director of Instrumental Arts
The King’s Academy
West Palm Beach, Florida

Imagine teaching at the school that not only you attended as a child, but where your mother went to school and was the drum major. “I understand and appreciate the culture of excellence that has been established at The King’s Academy (TKA),” says Wes Lowe. “My heritage and ties to the band program here inspire and motivate me to lead the program in a way that continues to have life-changing impact on my students. I love teaching at TKA and want to uphold the legacy of the instrumental arts program.”    

One way Lowe is doing this is by increasing band enrollment numbers. “Teaching at a K-12 school that is housed on one campus has some great benefits, such as being able to streamline the program so I can be involved in each band class,” he explains.

Lowe schedules performance trips to Disney World, Atlanta and Boston to provide motivation and incentives for his middle and high school students. “But the key to have a successful program is to have a strong beginning band program,” he says. “I took the lead in these classes and opened up band instruction for 4th-grade students for the first time. With research and study, I implemented proper fundamentals and training to these beginner band students all while making the class fun and enjoyable.”

Another area that has really taken off at TKA is the jazz program. Lowe credits this growth to three things: 1) He sets the bar for his students to perform at a professional level. “We take recordings of professional jazz bands and aim to play and perform at that level,” he says. 2) “Night of Jazz” concerts are scheduled throughout the school year where the jazz ensemble performs 14 or more jazz charts to sold-out audiences. Special guest artists like Duffy Jackson and Wayne Bergeron have performed with the band. 3) The jazz band consistently performs for the community. “This is a vital part of the program. Performing at retirement communities, charitable events and downtown marketplaces allows us to share the joy of music, and it opens the eyes and minds of my students to fully realize the power and impact that music can have on people,” Lowe says.

Lowe also spends time planning for the marching band’s halftime shows. “My goal with my halftime show is to produce a show that is modern and contemporary while creating an experience that isn’t typical for a high school marching band,” Lowe says. “I plan to the strengths of my program, which change each year. This year, I have an amazing singer, so I designed the show around her.”

The show included pyrotechnics, a specially choreographed dance routine and costumes that fit the style of the music. “I knew we would be compared to a Super Bowl halftime show because that is the standard and level that we aim to achieve,” Lowe says. “This was the first year we did a performance like this, and it surprised and shocked the audience in an impressive way. But next year might be completely different, and I am completely fine with that because it allows me to be creative and modern with my approach and design.”

Wilga Alex

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Alex Wilga

Alex Wilga

Director of Bands
Davenport Central High School
Davenport, Iowa

The Davenport Central High School band has a 136-year history, and Alexander Wilga is only the school’s eighth head director. “I am incredibly proud and very humbled that I get to work where I do,” he says. “The band program means so much to the community, and we do everything we can to give back to our area and make those who came before us proud. I know that I am just a placeholder, and my job is to make sure the program is in better shape when I am done than when I started.”

One way Wilga is doing this is by growing band enrollment to more than 240 students. “Our biggest recruiting success has been fostering a strong relationship with our junior high band program,” he says. “We participate in our 7th- and 8th-grade band rehearsals, we invite the junior high concert bands and jazz bands to share concerts with the high school, we share a halftime performance during the marching season, and we share our first public performance of the year called the Ice Cream Social, which happens on the third day of school.”

Wilga also focuses on retaining high school students by making sure that every student has a voice in the direction of the program and by providing more participation options for students. “We require every band student to be in concert band but from there they can choose to be in marching band, jazz band, color guard, winter guard, show choir band, brass choir, woodwind choir, percussion ensemble, steel drum band, as well as a whole host of solo and ensemble opportunities,” Wilga says.  

The biggest change that positively affected enrollment numbers was that the financial burden of band participation was taken away from Davenport Central families. “We are a 75% free and reduced lunch district, so asking families to spend money to rent or purchase an instrument can put music education out of reach for many of our students,” Wilga explains.  

He was involved in coordinating a proposal that secured guaranteed funding for music programs across the district. “I can be very persistent when I have to be,” Wilga admits. “I was very fortunate to have an amazing associate superintendent who knew how important the arts are to our students and our community. It was also wonderful — and risky! — to stand as a united district music department and tell the school board that we would no longer be able to provide music programs if there wasn’t going to be district funding.” Thankfully, the gamble paid off. 

Wilga goes on to say, “I am always pushing for my students to have every experience that is possible through band.  I don’t want them to worry about quality instruments, quality facilities, adequate funding or the other administrative things that come with a large program. I don’t want students to have a single roadblock so that they are free to become the best versions of themselves that they can possibly be.”

A final note from Wilga: “The machine that slices bread was invented in Davenport, so you are all welcome!” 

Taylor Heather

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Heather Taylor

Heather Taylor

Instrumental Music Teacher
Lakeshore Elementary School
Rochester, New York

Working at a Title I school can be challenging, but Heather Taylor isn’t deterred. “My students are amazing! They live in a low-income suburb of Rochester and receive free breakfast, lunch and many other school and family services,” she says. “While some live in a typical family unit, others live with their grandparents, in a foster home or have even been homeless. But even with these circumstances they are THRIVING in music!”

Taylor’s students take the bus one hour before school starts to make it to early morning band. If they miss the bus, they will walk to school in the freezing upstate New York winter weather. “They give up lunch and recess time to help me organize music or sort handouts,” she says. “They make me want to be a better teacher and provide them with the proper materials to succeed!”

Her can-do attitude obviously works because her music program at Lakeshore Elementary School is the largest elementary program in the district. She credits her high enrollment numbers on having high expectations and building relationships with her students. “I hold my students accountable for practicing at home and making music together in lessons and rehearsals,” she says.

Relationship-building comes naturally for Taylor. “I am so fortunate to be able to work with students not only in a large ensemble setting but in small group weekly lessons as well,” she explains. “These small group lessons allow me to get to know my students on a personal level, which basically eliminates any misbehaviors in my classroom. I want my students to know that I am a trusted adult and that my classroom is a safe space for them. They can come down to my classroom anytime — if they need a break, if they want to have lunch, etc. Sometimes that is all it takes for a student to want to come to school, to want to learn, to want to participate in music.”

Taylor did not want finances to be a barrier for students to participate in music. So she looked for ways to get instruments, accessories and classroom materials for her band program. “This continued to grow as I found alternative ways of getting these supplies (other than school/district budgets), such as instrument drives, #clearthelist movement, grants, Donors Choose, etc.,” she says. “All the materials I have received are immediately put into the hands of my students so that we can continue making music together!”

Antos Justin

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Justin Antos

Dr. Justin Antos

Director of Bands and Orchestras
Dwight D. Eisenhower High School
Blue Island, Illinois

“I believe that being a music educator is less about the ornate spires and more about the individual bricks that build the castle,” says Justin Antos. And he has amassed a number bricks to form a strong foundation for his students at Dwight D. Eisenhower High School, Saint Xavier University where he is the band director and Trinity Christian College where he is an adjunct professor of music.

Antos’ formula for growing his music program? Building morale and establishing a culture of respect and encouragement is an integral first step. “I celebrate little victories constantly to enhance my students’ sense of pride,” Antos says. “I also try to be as visible as possible. I talk with students in the cafeteria during their lunch periods, I walk with them in the hallways during passing periods and I attend their athletic events and non-musical performances. When students see than I am committed to them and that our program provides a safe and familial environment, new students flock to take music classes.”  

Eisenhower’s population is 90% low-income, and most students in the band and orchestra learn an instrument for the first time once they arrive at the school. Antos doesn’t let these statistics deter him. He discovers what they enjoy and then structures his curriculum and classroom activities to align with those interests. “When students contribute to the design of the educational landscape, learning happens organically,” he says.

He has had students earn full rides to competitive music schools and Ivy League universities who go on to become professional musicians or music educators. “On the same token, I have also had students struggle to produce a beautiful sound on their instruments for the longest time to then one day FINALLY be able to play with great tone quality,” Antos says. “In the end, the accolade means less to me than the sense of accomplishment.”

Antos’ musical advocacy goes beyond Eisenhower High School, Saint Xavier University and Trinity Christian College. He donated the honorarium he received as a top 10 finalist for the Grammy Music Educator Award in 2021 to Advocate Children’s Hospital of Oak Lawn’s music therapy department. The hospital provided a wish list of instruments, and Antos purchased hand drums, Gato boxes, wood blocks and pitched handheld instruments.

Amos David

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David Amos

David Amos

Director of Bands
Heritage Middle School
Painesville, Ohio

After the isolation created by the pandemic, many students “craved a place where they can unwind and express themselves,” says David Amos. “And band might be the only class in which they feel that is possible.”

Amos finds creative ways to introduce his students at Heritage Middle School to the many facets of music. He started a nine-week “Careers in Music” class that looks at various non-performing careers in the music industry. “Students learn about music journalists, concert planners, promotors, radio DJs and sound production,” Amos says. The class also explores job descriptions and the necessary training and qualifications for each position. Throughout the course, students “create songs in AB, ABA and verse-chorus form to learn how the music they hear on Spotify and TikTok is made.”

Painesville is located within a primarily middle-class county, but more than 85% of the Painesville City Local Schools’ students qualify for free and reduced lunch. To allow students to participate in band, 70% of students use school-owned instruments. In spite of these challenges, the PCLS band program is the third largest in the county.

More than half of the district’s population is Hispanic and Latino, and a quarter of the students are identified as English language learners. Amos works hard to include “music pieces that are comprised of folk melodies representative of the cultures in my classroom.”

For the 2021 winter concert, his band performed a piece called “Kwanzaa Celebration” that included a Liberian folk melody and the famous spiritual “Kum ba yah.” Amos and his students looked at the cultures and traditions represented in the music while learning to perform the songs. “I would love to see more middle school repertoire written by composers of color or queer-identified composers. Authentic representation of diverse individuals and the cultures they represent is extremely important to the growth of all students,” he says. 

Amos always finds ways to “push students to be a better version of themselves as an individual and in music,” according to one of his students. 

“Remember, music is worth it. … While music is the content we teach, our first goal must be to teach students the skills they need to be successful in this changing world,” Amos says.

Bechard Cassandra

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Cassandra Bechard

Dr. Cassandra Bechard

Director of Bands, Assistant Professor of Music
University of Northwestern St. Paul
St. Paul, Minnesota

At University of Northwestern St. Paul (UNW), Cassandra Bechard oversees several bands and ensembles that are diverse in musical backgrounds (including music majors/minors and non-music majors/minors) that come together to create exhilarating concerts. “What I am most proud of is not only the level of music-making, but the community building that the ensembles strive for,” she says. “Band rehearsals end at dinner hour on campus, and as a result there are daily band dinners. The community aspect of the program is strong and filled with kindness, care, respect and love for each other — it’s a very special program.”

Bechard plans to add an honor band day, something she started when she worked at the University of Dubuque in Iowa, where she saw an opportunity for more university-sponsored honor bands in the region. She collaborated with her colleagues in the fine and performing arts department and admissions to create an annual high school honor band day. Students are nominated by their band directors and if selected, they have a day full of rehearsals, a campus tour and a free concert that is open to the public. Bechard says that the University of Northwestern St. Paul will host its first high school honor band day in January 2023.

Prior to joining the faculty at UNW, Bechard taught high school band in South Dakota and encountered a common problem that she and her colleagues around the state faced — finding appropriate repertoire that fit the instrumentation of their ensembles. She tackled this problem head on, and during her doctoral degree, she focused her research on finding and cataloging repertoire for small wind chamber ensembles (8 to 16 players) that are at or below the grade level of IV. Bechard reached out to composers to write music, and she continues to support this area of research through presentations with her colleague, Dr. Melanie Brooks, from Winona State University and by joining consortiums for adaptable music.

Bechard’s proudest moments as a music educator is when former students connect with her to share their accomplishments. “What a privilege to be thought of and sought out to share exciting news with years after they have left my rehearsal space — there is nothing better,” she says.

Blanco Stephen

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Stephen Blanco

Stephen Blanco

Director of Mariachi Studies
Las Vegas High School
Las Vegas, Nevada

In 2018, Clark County School District welcomed a new mariachi program to Las Vegas High School. This program was “founded for a community that embodies what it truly means to be American, and its members have stepped up to show their families what the American Dream can really look like,” says Stephen Blanco, who was tapped to lead this new program.

In the years since its inception, the group, called Mariachi Joya, has grown and experienced tremendous success, including performing “La Tierra del Mariachi” for the virtual Parade Across America for the 2020 inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. “We hadn’t seen each other in nearly a year, so the inauguration performance was taped and recorded in seclusion,” Blanco says. “The school gave us special permission to meet in the gym to watch the inauguration. Standing back and seeing my students watching their hard work … well, there is no greater feeling in the world!”

Blanco says that Mariachi Joya “isn’t a normal class that performs four to five times a year. They perform nearly 100 times a year,” including events with Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman and Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak. The group recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to perform for the Mexican Embassy and to meet with Senator Catherine Cortez Masto.

Blanco spent his first week in Las Vegas at Music Education Consultants’ mariachi conference learning implementation strategies and stylistic nuances of mariachi music. Blanco created a five-year plan that included all the needed materials, curriculum and marketing strategies for the program. He says, “We are now ending year four of that five-year plan, and things are going great!”

Mariachi is more than a specialized ensemble at Las Vegas High School. “My students consistently give me reasons to be proud of them, whether it be laughs during rehearsal or them performing for sold-out crowds of thousands of people,” Blanco says.

According to one of his students, Blanco tells them to “rock that stage no matter where we are at and to release energy into the crowd.” Blanco and his students rally before every performance because they know that they have a job to do. “Every person in the audience is expecting a show, and we give them the best show they’ve ever seen,” Blanco says.

Bryant Robert

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Dr. Robert Bryant

Music Education Coordinator,
Assistant Professor of Music
Tennessee State University
Nashville, Tennessee

A third-generation music educator, Robert Bryant grew up singing in church and playing several instruments at a young age. “I always knew the power that music had in shaping identity and inspiring hope,” he says.

His passion for teaching others started as a high school drum major and section leader, and in college, that passion became more focused — Bryant wanted to work and serve in those areas that need him the most: marginalized and often forgotten communities of color. While working in urban areas like metro Atlanta and in rural settings like Americus, Georgia, Bryant “found my voice and purpose as a teacher by working with students who I saw a piece of myself in and who saw a piece of themselves in me.” At Tennessee State University (TSU), he helps his students find their voice and gives them the strategies, tools and techniques that will help them thrive as music teachers.

Prior to working at the collegiate level, Bryant worked as a band director at Miller Grove High School and Stockbridge Middle School where he increased enrollment in band by at least 20%. He also had his bands participate in solo and ensemble festivals for the first time.

“I am a data-driven teacher with a personalized approach for each and every student,” Bryant says. “Many of my students have made district and all-state ensembles, and my high school senior classes regularly amassed more than $1 million in music scholarship offers at colleges and universities throughout the country.”  

In addition to his work at TSU, Bryant is a guest lecturer and capstone supervisor for the master’s in curriculum and instruction degree at Florida A&M University, his alma mater. “It is my goal to work with these students to help them continue their education, transform their knowledge and experiences into research-based and data-driven instructional praxis, open their eyes to the possibilities they have with a graduate degree, and help them develop curricula and instructional techniques that allow them be better teachers to their students, as well as leaders within their school,” he says.

Bryant credits his “truly awesome” students for his success. “They have allowed me to push them when others had relegated them to lowered expectations and did not believe in their greatness,” he says. “They have embraced my ideas and approaches that sometimes were different and outside of their experience.”

Calus Adam

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Adam Calus

Adam Calus

Executive Director
Education Through Music — Massachusetts
Boston, Massachusetts

Adam Calus builds relationships wherever he goes. He founded the music program at Charlestown High School and after six years there, he moved to become executive director of Education Through Music — Massachusetts (ETM-MA) so he  could create more music programs for Boston Public Schools (BPS), especially at the many district schools that do not have them.

ETM-MA is a nonprofit that is committed to keeping music alive in all Massachusetts schools, starting in Boston. The organization partners with principals to create, strengthen and sustain music programs for schools that currently do not have them; and makes music a core subject in its partner schools. Calus says that another ETM-MA goal is to use music as a catalyst to support learning in other areas, including overall general development, motivation toward school and attendance, parent engagement and community investment in the school. 

Presently, Calus oversees the development of three new music programs for BPS at Brighton High School, Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School and he supports the BPS music teacher at David A. Ellis Elementary School.

Through his prior role as a public school music educator, and his current work at ETM-MA and as a private music instructor, Calus talks and listens to his students, their parents, music teachers and the community. When it comes to repertoire, Calus recommends having a simple conversation with students and their families. “The music that students love and connect with should be one of the core components that drives a lot of learning,” he says. “Parents and students appreciate that they have agency in what happens in the music learning space. The music that students know and love is already inside of them. Parents and students enjoy when the music space taps into that love in order to learn and become proficient musically.” 

He uses that same relationship-building model to find performance opportunities around Boston. “Students should get out into their community and make music regularly because that’s what musicians do,” Calus says. “They go out and perform in places they care about and are connected to. I talk with my students and encourage the teachers I train to do the same with regards to which community spaces mean something to them, then reach out to those spaces and find out how we can facilitate a student performance there.” 

Chandler Kristopher

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Kristopher Chandler

Kristopher Chandler

Director of Bands
Gautier High School
Gautier, Mississippi

Adapting to changes and being flexible have been essential for music educators during the pandemic, which Kristopher Chandler was forced to do. He came up with some creative solutions — one planned and one not — to help his music students at Gautier High School.

In the spring of 2021, Chandler hosted a Rehears-A-Thon weekend for his wind ensemble students to help them with their performance on their spring assessment literature and to reignite their fire and passion for music that was damaged during the ongoing pandemic. “We invited band directors from all over the state to lead sectionals, and had Dr. Colin McKenzie from the University of Southern Mississippi rehearse the full ensemble segment — all while remaining socially distant and wearing the necessary PPE,” Chandler says. “In total, the students and clinicians experienced approximately 12 hours of intense, yet engaging and enjoyable, learning!”

That summer, Band Camp 2021, was moved to a virtual platform after the first day because Chandler and several staff members tested positive for COVID, despite being fully vaccinated. The band staff and student leadership team devised a plan for the virtual camp including instructional videos, individual practice plans, music and marching fundamentals pass-off videos, and daily check-ins with staff and student leaders via Google Meets. “While we have a talented band staff, our incredible student leadership team was the driving force behind making our virtual band camp a success,” Chandler says.

The Gautier Band Program prides itself on operating each day as a true team, which includes four full-time band directors, one color guard coordinator and one part-time guard tech. “Our team sees every student in our program every day by teaching courses on multiple campuses,” Chandler says. “We truly complement each other and it’s a joy working with these incredible educators every day. But we cannot do our job without great students and a great educational community. The Gautier band program has high goals for the future, and we are eager to continue working!”

Collins Danielle

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Danielle Collins

Danielle Collins

Director of Music, Media, Entertainment Technology (MMET) Department
Academy for the Performing Arts
Huntington Beach High School
Huntington Beach, California

The Music, Media, Entertainment Technology (MMET) Program at Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts is personalized and student-led, “meaning our students choose a path for the year (or sometimes even the show), and each is responsible for different aspects of the production, beyond performing the songs,” says Danielle Collins, the director of the MMET department.

About 25% of the 150 students in the Pop Music Program in MMET help arrange or record their colleagues’ original songs. According to Collins, students run rehearsal blocks and sound engineer in each of the academy’s studios, as well as oversee production of each song in preparation for live performances, which include three annual mainstage rock shows (each with 12 to 15 groups performing) and three to four dozen community gigs and performances. Through community outreach by Collins and her students, MMET performances run the gamut from holiday parties, parades, street fairs, restaurants and coffee shops, and other events in Huntington Beach.  

“We try to provide students as many options as they may find in the music industry, while still maintaining a level of quality,” she says. These options include recording holiday albums and original songs for which media students design music videos. “We focus on producing, recording, performing and event managing,” Collins says.

According to one of her nomination letters, Collins encourages students to try, fail and eventually succeed. Calling MMET a “program of grit,” Collins says that students hold themselves to such a high standard that failure usually isn’t an option. “We create safe opportunities for healthy fails and the space and time built into productions to recover and succeed,” she explains. “We reflect weekly and ask students to recast what they may feel is a ‘fail’ to merely a ‘try,’ and this mindset helps our students take more risks because they know they’ll be supported through the process.”

In addition to running the Pop Music Program at her school, Collins helps other music educators establish their own programs. She shares that at a previous school, she started her pop music groups during every ensemble class — for example, jazz band had a rhythm section, and those students were given class time to select and rehearse pop songs to perform. She recruited students into concert band classes, planning to have them in the pop music group. According to Collins, this initial enrollment is vital while building your program.

Collins also says that you must have your administration’s support in understanding that not all students on campus have an interest in participating in a traditional music program. “You will absolutely triple your program if you can create space for the other 80% of students on your campus who find passion in popular music.”

Dame Nathan

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Dr. Nathan Dame

Dr. Nathan Dame

Director of Choral Activities,
Fine Arts Department Chair
Wylie East High School
Wylie, Texas

Described as an “empire builder,” Dr. Nathan Dame says it’s all about inspiring and enabling those around you to find musical success and to become empowered stakeholders throughout the building process. “When I accepted the position at Wylie East High School, my co-director — I am blessed to teach with my wife and better half every day! — and I built a strategic plan grounded in the musical, social and interpersonal values of what we wanted our program to look like, how we wanted our students to sing, how they would hold themselves in the school and community, and how we wanted to involve others in the process,” he says

They revisit the strategic plan each year and make necessary changes as the program grows — which it has! The program now includes 300 students in 10 choral ensembles. A third full-time choral director has been hired at Wylie, and a staff member was added to the feeder programs at the middle schools.

A key to the growth of the choral program is Dame’s recruitment and retention efforts, which are grounded in three main areas: 1) musical success, 2) visibility and 3) strong relationships with students. “I have been fortunate to work in three different schools where enrollment has tripled,” he says. “Our goal is to create an inclusive environment for all students where we create outstanding music, share it with others frequently and purposefully, and care about our students as people before musicians.” 

Each year, Dame creates a theme for the choral program. The first year’s theme was “Elevate,” which focused on the development and expectations of exemplary musicianship. Subsequent themes have been “Ignite” to spark the fuel within each student, and “Odyssey” as everyone navigated the unknown challenges of the pandemic. “Breaking Ground” is this year’s theme as the choral program opens a new facility and will travel internationally for the first time.

The fine arts building expansion was supported by a bond proposal and the district administration. “Our superintendent of schools was quick to say, ‘students don’t come to school for algebra … they come to school for fine arts and other programs,’ and he put his money and actions where his mouth was,” Dame says.

The new facility has a large choir room with skylights, new computers and sound technology, recording equipment, seated risers, equipment and uniform storage, two offices and six practice rooms. Additionally, there is a specific ensemble room where three sections of classes can overlap, which are outfitted with portable risers, and pedagogical and technological tools.

“I am inspired daily with our program and what it has become,” Dame says. “After our recent winter concert, a staff member came up to our team and said, ‘You promote excellence from every student and it is so neat to see.’ This makes me so proud, and I feel that our expectation of excellence at all levels is evident in our program’s results at contests and in concert.”

Felder Brandon

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Brandon Felder

Brandon Felder

Fine Arts Music Director, SHABACH! K-8 Christian Academy
Landover, Maryland
Music Director, Georgetown University Gospel Choir
Washington, D.C.

“Bloom where you are planted” is Brandon Felder’s teaching philosophy. “Music represents time, and like a seed that is planted and takes root, it will sprout, grow and bloom. Music should take form and dissolve as music has the power to transform,” he says.   

At SHABACH! K-8 Christian Academy, Felder makes his classroom and rehearsal room safe spaces for creativity, transparency, peace, harmony and respect where his students experience freedom of expression. “If students can feel an educator’s passion, they will gain inspiration and then work toward excellence,” he says.

Intentional music programming is something that Felder takes pride in. “It is a meticulous process in which I consider the culture of the community, sensitivities and student abilities,” he says.  “I envision the end result — performances, end of semester, assessments, etc. — and what skills students need to accomplish these outcomes. Then I weave programs, concerts, recitals and formal and informal performances to support this.”

At SHABACH! and at all his previous positions, Felder first establishes involvement and connection within the school through pep rallies, assemblies, flash mobs and sporting events. Once the music program is visible at the school, he says to seek community involvement and performance opportunities in the community, first at locations (senior homes, hospitals, churches, nursing homes, malls and shopping centers, sporting events and city government events) within a 5-mile-radius of the school. As the school’s music program grows, continue to expand its footprint in 5-mile increments.

“Just as chicken makes its own gravy and bacon makes its own grease, I want to create musical citizens who are a product of my experiences,” Felder says. “I consider myself a teaching artist who continually fuels my own creative experiences through personal performance and objective opportunities. Once I am charged artistically and creatively, it is my responsibility as a music educator to provide innovation and fresh ideas to the classroom experience for students to expand outside of the four walls of the traditional classroom mindset.”

Felder is also the music director of the Georgetown University Gospel Choir. “I oversee the talented student singers who celebrate their spirituality through song and support Protestant Ministry services and special campus events while singing diverse musical selections,” he says.

In addition to his work at SHABACH! and Georgetown University, Felder serves on the GRAMMY Recording Academy Board, Washington, D.C. Chapter and its D.C. Education Committee, which identifies top programs across the region as well as recognizes economically underserved schools and their efforts in music education.

Finney Bryson

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Bryson Finney

Bryson Finney

Artistic Director, We Are Nashville Festival
Learning Technology Specialist
Metro Nashville Public Schools
Nashville, Tennessee

We Are Nashville is an annual music festival for Nashville area vocal and instrumental programs that takes place in March, during Music in Our Schools Month. Music programs are invited for a “Day of Music,” which was housed this year at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in downtown Nashville.

“My heart behind the event is to expose students and young aspiring musicians to the array of opportunities that exist in music,” says Bryson Finney, the festival’s artistic director, coordinator and co-founder. “Providing this enriching platform for students can be life-changing. I believe a dream needs three essential steps to grow: 1) exposure (see the artistry), 2) identification (workshop opportunities/learning experiences) and 3) action (joint performance opportunities). This not only plants seeds but also builds our city’s artistic community.”

Finney spent the first nine years of his career as a general music, piano and choir instructor at an elementary school. After earning his master’s degree, Finney embraced music tech and digital music composition and became a Metro Nashville Public Schools learning technology instructional coach. He led district-wide professional development opportunities supporting technology integration. He also worked with the Nashville Symphony as the Accelerando Program coordinator, equipping students from diverse ethinic backgrounds for careers in music.

During the pandemic, Finney worked with the CMA Foundation’s United Voices for Music Education Initiative and collaborated with music educators nationwide, collecting innovative ideas for the music classroom.

Finney returned to Metro Nashville Public School as a Learning Technology Specialist and works with educators to integrate district-approved digital tools and applications into instruction. “Most of my school-based work happens with our elementary schools and involves consultations with school leadership, school-wide/grade-level trainings, co-teaching and modeling,” he says.

The We Are Nashville Festival clearly holds a special place in Finney’s heart. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for exposure, education and engagement with student ensembles and local artists,” he says. In 2020,

In 2020, a We Are Nashville video project was created in collaboration with the Nashville Symphony and its Accelerando Program, which received a 2021 Regional Emmy. Finney was the songwriter.

Goindoo Alain

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Alain Goindoo

Alain Goindoo

Director of Bands, Jeaga Middle School
West Palm Beach, Florida
Executive Director, Hope Symphony INC

Alain Goindoo created Hope Symphony to provide access to music, tools and resources to children and families from communities in need. “I wanted to bring hope for the future and level the playing field,” he says. “Hope Symphony brings together a village of difference-makers who provide essential resources, equipment, personnel, camps and life-changing opportunities that would otherwise pass by these children due to lack of access.”

The Hope Symphony Summer Band Camp was established in 2017 and serves approximately 100 Title I students. “The purpose of the camp is to promote more than music proficiency — the camp generates excitement for learning and gives hope for their future one note at a time,” Goindoo says.

Students at camp receive music lessons from qualified instructors, free food, method books and equipment. They engage in successful learning on a college campus with their peers. The camp experience provides college readiness skills and establishes the idea that the pursuit of a higher education is a reality and something that they can achieve.  

In a “40 Under 40” nomination letter, Goindoo, who is also Jeaga Middle School’s band director, is described as a nurturer who is touted for putting children who live in communities affected by drugs and gun violence on a “completely alternate trajectory thanks to music.” 

“We create a safe space for students to learn and grow, as well as set goals that give them ownership, a sense of pride, value in themselves and their work, and, most importantly, a place to belong,” Goindoo says. “As music teachers, we find our students’ passion for music and nurture that passion through  developing effective rigorous programming, building healthy and meaningful relationships, teamwork, leadership development, setting goals, learning to never give up and preparing them for college readiness — all this on top of building music proficiency!”

Goindoo has raised more than $380,000 in grants to support music education. “I pray, then I work diligently outside of school hours writing grants, raising awareness and building community relationships with parents, local universities, city and county officials, and nonprofit organizations to meet the needs of the children. After explaining the needs and showing how the resources will be used, most people want to help,” he says.

Hayes Jayme

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Jayme Hayes

Jayme Hayes

Director of Bands
Mayberry Cultural and Fine Arts
Magnet Middle School
Wichita, Kansas

When the world went into lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jayme Hayes tackled online learning with gusto. “I became a content-creating maniac,” she said. “Resources like method books, online theory tools, even YouTube instructional videos were not made for 100% online teaching, and that was the biggest problem I faced at first. I realized I needed to create content that matched my program and me as a teacher. I created practice and assessment tools with Boom Cards, YouTube and Flipgrid for almost every lesson.”

Much of what Hayes learned, experienced and taught during remote and hybrid teaching has now become a central part of her classroom at Mayberry Cultural and Fine Arts Magnet Middle School. She effectively reaches students at their level of understanding by providing more resources and chances for them to succeed. “I still incorporate online tools like Boom, Flipgrid and YouTube, but they are more spread out throughout the week or quarter,” she says. “We use iPads for composition projects, tuning activities, aural skills activities and listening evaluation. Students are given multiple opportunities to show their level of proficiency as we learn and develop music skills.”

She was so adept at teaching remotely that the Kansas Music Educators Association (KMEA) asked her to speak at its virtual convention. Her presentation focused on how virtual teaching did not have to be any less effective, impactful or educational than in-person teaching. “It was a session about our mindset when it came to teaching online,” Hayes explains. “We were/are still educators who are passionate about our students and music. I refused to allow the screen to remove that from my classroom, and I tried to empower others to do the same. I do not teach music to young people, I teach young people through music. A camera wasn’t going to stop me from doing that.”

How did Hayes find ways for students to make music remotely? “With comic relief mixed in with high expectations, honesty and transparency,” she says.

Each quarter had a theme and everything was planned around that theme. Hayes used poems and children’s books to learn about improvisation, composition, teamwork and performance. “Every day we played with recordings, metronomes, call and response, singing and playing,” she says. “We played interactive games using rhythms and our instruments like charades, Pictionary, Clue and a very creative version of Among Us that I got from the Band Directors Facebook page because there are other teachers who are a lot more creative than me.”

Hayes admits that honesty was the biggest part of the shared creativity with her students. “I told the kids that I was trying my best with these new crazy ideas, and they were eager to try them out,” she says.