2021

Bechard David

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When David Bechard started at Wahlert Catholic High School, the band had 13 members. After relentless recruiting for 18 months, the band grew to 52 members — a growth of 400%! “My plan was to make band fun and create a sense of ownership for the students,” Bechard said. “I focused on building their sense of community and pride.”

A part of the fun factor was the virtual Halloween concert. “We missed our annual Halloween Parade due to COVID-19, so I wanted to give my students a fun Halloween experience,” Bechard said. “We recorded ‘Thriller’ in our main gym and my ‘zombie cymbals’ slowly chased my bass clarinetist, adding to the zombie horde throughout the song!”

Even though Wahlert’s band is small compared to other schools, Bechard did not just make do with what he had. He repeatedly asked for resources for his program. A costly ask was acoustic paneling in the band room, which would help students hear the other instruments better. “The most important step I took was reminding the office at every opportunity that the paneling was a need — physically, musically and educationally,” he said.

According to one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, “It wasn’t long ago that Wahlert Catholic High School’s band looked like toast. Then David Bechard stepped in. A dwindling band that didn’t march and struggled to play concert band music due to lack of instrumentation is now playing Friday night football games and playing quality concert band literature.”

Alcantara-Rojas Javier

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Javier Alcántara-Rojas not only grew the music program at both Granite Hills High School and its feeder middle school, Phoenix Academy, he was a key player in advocating for and creating a new curriculum that would become the Granite Recording & Entertainment Arts Training (GREAT) Academy. For three years, Alcántara-Rojas and a small group of educators developed this career technical education (CTE) program specifically for the performing arts. The GREAT Academy, which opened in 2018, offers core arts training along with applied technical training.

In one of Alcántara-Rojas’ “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a colleague wrote, “The amount of creativity it took to create this system — which allows students to move through an academy-style system of classes while still allowing them to take desired classes within the other subjects — frankly boggles my mind,” 

The academy’s mission is to prepare high school students for college and career readiness and to “equip them with the technical proficiency and aesthetic sensitivity” for a career in the entertainment industry.

One-third of Granite Hills High’s students participate in the academy. According to Alcántara-Rojas, the academy coursework focuses on student interests and offers a comprehensive music program, as well as classes in dance, theater, animation and tech theater. The GREAT Academy also has a newly renovated performing arts center, and performing there encourages “students to give their creative best,” he said.

The California Department of Education saw the immediate impact of the GREAT Academy and recognized it as a Regional Technical Assistance Site to help other schools build and grow the arts in their communities.

Zilisch Cory

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The orchestra at Westport Middle School has been described as electrifying — that’s because it’s an electric orchestra! “The Westport Rock N’ Warhawks is the only one of its kind in a middle school … It is the most technologically advanced orchestra program in the United States today, and it is known throughout the country for its highly skilled and diversity of talent,” said Cory Zilisch, Westport’s director of orchestras.

Students in the orchestra are introduced to a variety of rock, pop and classical music; learn choreography and floor movements for their performances; and can experiment with all the sounds that electric instruments produce. Students also learn to improvise and create their own music. The Rock N’ Warhawks perform at various school and community events, activities and conferences in Kentucky.

The popularity of the electric orchestra has helped Zilisch grow his orchestra by 400% in five years. “Simply taking that group and performing around the city has caused so many kids to want to join the program,” Zilisch said. “Another big recruitment tool is our social media presence. Word has gotten around town about our program and we have kids clamoring to be a part of it!”

In addition to the Rock N’ Warhawks, Zilisch oversees the 6th grade, 7th grade and 8th grade orchestras, as well as a chamber orchestra.  According to one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, “I would wager a large sum that Cory Zilisch is the most impressive, young orchestra teacher in the United States. … He holds a high bar for behavior, encouragement and achievement in his ensembles that has a radiating effect on the school population as a whole.”

Zeilinger Aaron

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A change in leadership can make a world of difference. Just ask the students at Orange Lutheran High School about music director Aaron Zeilinger, who they affectionately call Mr. Z. In one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a student wrote, “Mr. Z is always motivating us to be the best version of ourselves.”

Another student wrote, “Mr. Z makes everyone feel welcome to the program. I’ve seen upperclassmen with no prior music experience join band and commit to practicing because of Mr. Z’s dedication to make everyone feel capable of being a musician.”

A major change Zeilinger implemented at Orange Lutheran was to re-establish the marching band. “After a 3-year hiatus, I saw a need for the unique team bonding that marching band brings to a program,” he said. “Now that we are in our fourth year, the kids are closer than ever and excited for when we can march again.”

Zeilinger also changed the format of the final concert of the school year — the Student Showcase — to be one developed and run by students. “I have always been a firm believer in establishing a sense of ownership within programs by enabling students to have a voice in major items,” he said. “Each song is either chosen by, conducted by or taught by a student with my guidance. It is truly a celebration of the students’ growth over the time that they have been in the program.”

During the pandemic, Zeilinger asked for student input on topics for his music appreciation presentations. He has lectured on topics ranging from baroque music to the music of Harry Styles and even what makes a pop song catchy. “It has been a lot of fun creating these lessons and allowing students to sit back and enjoy something (that is still educationally relevant) during this already stressful time,” he said.

In addition to teaching music, Zeilinger molds students to be self aware, empathetic and positive. And his students feel his impact long after they leave Orange Lutheran. A former student wrote, “When I graudated, one of Mr. Zeilinger’s final pieces of advice to me was to ‘have confidence in yourself and don’t be afraid to get out of your shell.’ I still take this advice to heart today.”

Read about how Zeilinger started the Performing Arts Academy at Orange Lutheran.

Walck Tim

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Tim Walck oversees the music program in the Austin Area School District, the smallest district in Pennsylvania, whose graduating class last year consisted of 10 students. “With class sizes so small, the same students tend to participate in almost everything,” Walck said. “This has great benefits, but the challenges of balancing schedules, focus and quality of work are very real.”

The district is also the most rural — “Wal-Mart is more than an hour away, and the closest town band is even farther,” Walck said. “So, opportunities to experience an orchestra, winds ensemble, jazz band, stage production, solo artist or performing arts event of any nature are infrequent — even prior to Covid.”

Despite these challenges, Walck is dedicated to ensuring that his students have the same opportunities and experiences that students have in larger districts. According to one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, “Walck has endeavored to utilize a hands-on approach to music education, where students are constantly playing and creating music.”

For example, due to the small student population, Walck decided to forego a traditional band and formed rock bands at the elementary and high schools. Walck’s long-term goal is to have the rock band travel and compete, but with the pandemic, the bands were temporarily sidelined. “But students have been rehearsing in individual lessons with the goal of creating a multitrack recording. This is a work in progress as my students and I expand our technical abilities,” Walck said.

Another creative outlet for Austin students is Muse Guitars, a student-run business that launched in September 2020 and sponsored by Read World Scholars. Students build and design sellable products — namely, ukuleles and guitars — and “experience entrepreneurship and learn job-readiness skills, such as website development and design, marketing, branding and, of course, crafting and personalizing their instruments and products,” Walck said.

Villanueva EJ

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EJ Villanueva knows that instilling a love for music at an early age can be transformative. That’s why he aims to provide a variety of opportunities for students in TK through 6th grade at Orange Grove Elementary to engage in musical instruction regularly. In one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a colleague wrote, “Even during unprecedented times, Mr. Villanueva makes music instruction relevant. He takes the time to provide engaging lessons so students have the opportunity to connect with music.”

Even with distance learning, Villanueva has found ways to make his lessons fun and interactive. He has hosted live YouTube sessions to teach rhythm and provided synchronous weekly instruction via Microsoft Teams. Most notably, he planned a socially distanced grab-and-go for all 6th graders to pick up their ensemble instruments. “I determined which instrument each student would be assigned through a Google survey and made my decision based on their preferences and living situations,” Villanueva said.

Students at Orange Grove, look forward to entering 6th grade because they have the opportunity to join the 6th grade band that Villanueva started. “Save the Music Foundation provided instruments and music stands,” he said. “With the support of the 6th grade team and fellow music educators in the district, I introduced students to band instruments and helped them choose which ones to play.”

Prior to the pandemic, Villanueva conducted winter and spring concerts and invited the entire school community. He also accompanied groups of students to perform at different musical events around Orange County. “I often volunteered my students to perform at these events to help them build performance experience and showing them the importance of community outreach,” he said.

Read about the depth and breadth of Villanueva’s music program at Orange Grove Elementary. 

Vicchiariello Vincent

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Nutley music is part of who Vincent Vicchiariello is. Not only did he attend Nutley schools as a child, but he has taught at the elementary, middle school and now Nutley High School. So, it’s not surprising that he calls the Nutley band program a family. “When I took over as director at the high school, I made it a point to let the students know that we are all there for each other no matter what,” he said. “We have instilled a culture in our students that they follow, believe in and teach to the new students. They help and care for one another on/off the football field, in/out of the classroom or in/out of the band hallway.”  

While parents and students are proud of the many awards that the Nutley band has received under Vicchiariello’s leadership, they are more appreciative of how he has built a community within his music program. In several “40 Under 40” nomination letters, students called him “a role model” and “my rock,” and that “he has taught us the importance of hard work and continuously emphasizes to never give less than our best.” A parent was succinct in his praise of Vicchiariello: “He connects to the kids like no other. Grounded. Has their best interest at heart. One of a kind.”

Another parent wrote about Vicchiariello’s exceptional programs that blend classical music with edgy, modern pieces. “He includes all his staff, his students and even parents in the creative process, actively asking for input. This bridge of communication has brought together a series of fresh ideas that brought life into our music program.”

Vicchiariello strives to find more musical opportunities not only for his high school band members but for students at Nutley’s feeder schools. He saw the benefits of including 8th graders in the marching band, something that he himself experienced. “I had the opportunity to join the high school marching band when I was in 8th grade, and I enjoyed every second of it along with many of my friends,” he said. Vicchiariello knew that students often don’t continue playing music when they enter high school. By implementing this new program, 8th graders have the opportunity to grow and development throughout their extended time in the group.

During the pandemic, Vicchiariello worked tirelessly to provide a safe marching season for his students. Even though all competitions were cancelled, he continued to teach them new music and worked with community leaders and the booster association to practice at a park so that students could safely play together. According to another nomination letter, “He was in constant communication with the parents so that together our children could continue to do what they love, which is to play music,”

Vento Banda Giselle

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Giselle Vento Banda has a long history at Waco Independent School District — she attended the district’s school as a student. “As a disoriented ESL student, walking into the choir room taught me that I was a member of the gaggle and had arrived in a safe space where I could be me,” she said. Now, she wants to return the favor to the school community that “gracefully invested and welcomed me into its circle.”

A small but impactful way she motivates her students is to call them “scholars.” Vento Banda heard a friend used the term, and it resonated with her. “I want children to be globally minded, lifelong learners. I also want them to know that their teachers are scholars, too. After all, children become the imprint we leave in their minds. When I refer to them as ‘scholars,’ my students’ behaviors shift, and they take pride in learning,” she said.

Vento Banda’s reach goes beyond Waco ISD. She also serves as the co-director of the Youth Chorus of Central Texas, a community choral group for 3rd to 12th graders from diverse educational and economic backgrounds. “This organization holds a special place in my heart, for I, too, was in a children’s chorus in Mexico,” Vento Banda said.

In one of her “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a colleague wrote, “As Giselle grows, her kids grow! Music has become their passion under Ms. Vento Banda’s guidance, and they have so many more opportunities to develop their musical arts learning because of her. Her passion, courage and creativity is only highlighted by her personal desire to continue to develop as a professional music educator. Giselle is magnificent.”

Read about how the Youth Chorus of Central Texas was started

Velez Celina

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Celina Velez has devoted her career to working with Philadelphia’s Latino community. “I always want my students to feel passionately and positive about their music-making experiences,” she said.

As the music director at Cayuga Elementary School, she uses singing, movement and rhythm exercises to open the door for students to play instruments. “Singing through exercise and swaying/dancing to the rhythm of a song before playing it are critical to helping students internalize the music,” Velez said. “The more senses we use to learn something, the better the students will retain it. My students love stepping to different rhythms and challenging each other or me to a ‘rhythm off!’”

She brings guest artists and ensembles to her class and prepares her students to play alongside them. “It’s so nerve-wracking! I create mini-performance opportunities like lunch hour café shows to get the nerves out,” Velez said. “I use performance buddies — pairing a younger student with an older student for mentorship — to help keep each one accountable at concert time with instruments, costumes and other equipment.”

In addition to her work at Cayuga, Velez also is a founding member of the North Philadelphia Art Teacher’s Alliance that brings together K-12 students from area public, private and charter schools. “While schools train students and help them grow as artists, NPATA provides additional performance opportunities for participating schools by hosting collaborative concerts, festivals and art shows,” Velez said.

According to one of her “40 Under 40” nomination letters, “A Latina woman, Celina relates on a personal level with the students she has devoted herself to supporting. As a role model, she instills confidence, positivity and key values in her students who are often dealing with adversity.”  

Teed Brian

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Working backward as a teaching philosophy may have some people scratching their heads, but this approach is one that has served Brian Teed well at Wakeland High School. He explained that in order for end goals to consistently be met, staff, students and the administration must agree on the strategy and approach to reach that goal. “Music education is very much a team effort,” he said. “My students are part of the process of working backward, and they know what to expect. Students hold one another accountable in a positive manner since we are all striving to perform at our highest ability as a cohesive ensemble. It creates a sense of ownership for each member.”

In one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a parent wrote, “This collective ownership of goals and expectations makes the band function like a large family. My daughter loves the feeling of being accepted and included.”

Another parent wrote, “Brian connects the dots between what students do on the field, in class and how they prepare for auditions. He has invited well-known clinicians to emphasize strategies/goals, and he has elevated the students to understand music at an advanced and intellectual level.”

Teed isn’t afraid to shake things up — he made major changes to the marching percussion program and the staff. He also added a second spring percussion ensemble concert and limited it to high school students, who “would play a little bit more challenging music and focus on new commissions or specific artists, who would work with us,” Teed said. The joint high school and middle school percussion concert was scheduled later in the spring, “which allowed the middle school students more time to work up their solos and ensembles, gave the high school students another performance opportunity, and shortened the length of our cluster concert significantly, making it more enjoyable for all performers and audience members,” Teed said.

“Kids learn differently, and Mr. Teed adjusts accordingly,” another parent wrote in a nomination letter. “He engages them in the process as they pick music, develop skills and audition for different instruments. This approach gives them a stake in the outcome and encourages life skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, goal setting and relationships.”

Read about Teed’s unconventional but effective teaching philosophy of backward planning

Swick Tyler

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Tyler Swick

Elementary Music Educator
Robert and Sandy Ellis Elementary School
Henderson, Nevada

There doesn’t seem to be enough superlatives to describe Tyler Swick’s energetic, entertaining and exhilarating teaching style. And accolades from parents and colleagues are just as numerous.  In several of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, parents called him a “musical magician” and that his “his work ethic knows no bounds when it comes to ensuring he gets a smile out of a few extra kiddos.” Another parent simply stated, “It doesn’t feel like learning when it’s this fun!”

Fun is a big part of Swick’s Orff-based music classes at Ellis Elementary attended by more than 700 students, and his growing YouTube channel, Swick’s Classroom, which has videos of catchy songs that showcase his “cutting-edge creativity and a self-taught knack for audio and video production to create highly entertaining educational material,” according to another nomination letter.

Swick said he started the channel when “I went on paternity leave and wanted my students to continue to receive high-quality Orff xylophone instruction.” The channel now has almost 3,500 subscribers and more than 500,000 total views.

“The songs and videos are vehicles to get my students engaged,” Swick said. “The lesson may be about quarter notes but that’s hidden inside of a song about spending winter on the beach. The Halloween songs really get the students amped up about October. They get so excited to see the Chihuahua that I can sneak in learning about clave rhythms, shaker technique and minor keys!”

Swick writes and records songs quickly. For example, he had the idea for the “12 Days of Google Meets” on a Wednesday night, and it was on YouTube by Friday morning. “When I’m excited about a concept, I’ll skip sleeping to get the project done,” he said. In one month, that particular video has had over 12,000 views.

In May 2020, Swick received the “Heart of Education” award by The Smith Center. He used the $1,000 prize to purchase each Ellis Elementary student a pair of drumsticks, a scarf and a shaker, items that he calls for them to use during his remote learning classes.

“We are very lucky to have Mr. Swick at Ellis Elementary. His kindness, creativity, encouragement and support are wonderful examples for my daughter — and all the students — to follow,” wrote another parent.

Read about how Swick uses YouTube as a teaching tool

See what devices and tools Swick uses in his classroom — equipment that you may want to add to your wish list. 

Consider Swick’s fundraising strategies that do not require selling things. 

Stinson Don

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Don Stinson

Director of Bands
Joliet Central High School
Joliet, Illinois

Don Stinson proves that you can go home again. Stinson is the director of bands at the high school he attended — Joliet Central High School. “I’ve thought about teaching at Joliet Central since I was 14,” he said. “Being only the fifth director in the program’s 110-year history is very daunting, but the students continue to rise to the challenge of honoring our band’s history and innovating for the next generation.”

The school’s demographics have changed since Stinson was a student there 20 years ago. It now serves a 75% low-income area with high mobility. “There may not be as much money in our population as there used to be, but we turn negatives into positives,” said Stinson, who is proud or the diversity and accomplishments of his ensembles.

Stinson has created more music-making opportunities at Joliet Central, including a second jazz ensemble, a guest artist series, a jazz lab experience and an introduction to band class. He also founded and directed the Joliet Young Musicians Mentor Band, a two-week summer program. “I ‘borrowed’ the idea of the mentor band from another school and tweaked it. By the end of the program, junior high students receive some musical instruction and our high schoolers experience some authentic leadership opportunities,” Stinson said.

On top of all of his teaching responsibilities, Stinson has a book, “Teaching Music to Students from Underserved Backgrounds,” coming out. The three key points in Stinson’s book are: 1) Money doesn’t solve all of our problems in education, effective and committed teachers are the key; 2) working to identify and combat implicit bias can help teachers help students and communities; 3) some students from low-income areas may not have the time or place to practice or focus on music outside of school; therefore, we must take the job of structuring our class time with rigor and flow seriously.

Read about how Stinson instituted a “practice-not-required” strategy at Joliet Central High School

Learn how Stinson uses his school accountability report card to make his band more representative.

Don Stinson and the Joliet Central High School band will be part of the Midwest Clinic’s 75th anniversary in December 2021. 

Snipes Willie

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Imagine successfully petitioning your college’s president to start a music program, then being the first student to graduate from that program, then returning to the school six years later to be the assistant band director. That’s what Willie Snipes Jr. did! In April 2016 – on his birthday, no less – he was named the director of college bands at Miles College, becoming the youngest director in the HBCU band world. “To see music and music education majors graduate from the program that I helped start brings great joy to my heart,” Snipes said.

Miles’ award-winning bands has more than 200 members with an 85% retention rate. “I believe that my high recruitment and retention rate is due to the fact that I build a relationship of trust with my students,” Snipes said. “Many of my students are from low-income families, which I am from as well, or from broken homes — so that connection and trust are essential.” 

Building and maintaining a strong music program requires support from the community, so Snipes shows local schools and neighborhoods that “Miles Cares.” Members of the band sorority and fraternity assist local middle school and high school music directors, giving the college students teaching and leadership opportunities. Snipes and the staff promote the “horns up, guns down” campaign in local neighborhoods, help with food drives, donate instruments to local school bands, and recruit students and award them band scholarships.

In one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a colleague wrote, “Mr. Snipes and his students are not just champions in the band world, they are champions for education. He make sure no student is left behind by pushing education first and stepping in when a student’s grades are falling. Mr. Snipes is a teacher, leader, father, mentor, friend and a great asset to our community.”

Sleppy Jason

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During the pandemic when in-person events, competitions and performances were cancelled across the board, Jason Sleppy did something remarkable for his band students at William Mason High School. He organized a culminating showcase performance at Indiana’s Lucas Oil Stadium to replace the end-of-the-season competition.  

“When we learned in July that the Bands of America (BOA) season would be cancelled, we immediately began investigating ways to provide a season-ending experience that met our criteria of being a world-class venue that we could safely travel to without staying overnight,” Sleppy explained. “We reached out to Lucas Oil Stadium to discover that we could rent the facility for half the cost of our typical BOA Grand Nationals trip!”

Organizing the trip required collaboration among multiple state officials and health departments, but Sleppy was determined. According to one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a former colleague wrote, “He made it a lasting memory for the Mason band family and provided closure for the seniors.”

The performance at Lucas Oil Stadium was the culmination of Sleppy’s efforts throughout the pandemic. When quarantines were mandated, “it was clear that the only way to move forward was with a leader who was willing to create a new approach and who would never give up,” a band parent wrote in another nomination letter. “Mr. Sleppy did exactly that and he did it with a smile on his face and compassion in his heart.”

Another event that Sleppy spearheaded during the pandmic was the Mason Invitational. “We teamed up with our Mason boosters to create a non-competitive event for 15 bands in our area to safely attend by redesigning the audience and band flow to allow for social distancing,” he said. “A panel of national clinicians provided feedback, and we had amazingly positive responses from the parents, directors and students who attended.”

Sleppy is pragmatic and positive in reflecting on the last year. “Life consists of constant challenges, and you have to make an active decision to not have a pessimistic view. Challenges are a catalyst and opportunity to grow and change for better,” he said.

Schaffer Doug

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In August 2019, Doug Schaffer “marched in and brought a program to life,” according to a band parent in one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters. Schaffer recommended a three-week fine arts exploratory class where 6th graders can experience art and band so they can choose which fine arts class they want to continue. “Since implementing the class, our beginning band number shot up with 60% of them joining band,” he said.

Schaffer also started a junior high marching band to increase the retention rate from 8th grade to high school. “The band performs at two local and one away parade every year to give them a taste of high school. After the first year of the junior high band, we saw 100% retention,” Schaffer said.

Despite the pandemic, the district hosted the first Mark Twain Invitational Band Festival with 12 bands participating in a parade and a field show competition. “My kids showed incredible resiliency by still being able to put together a show and compete,” Schaffer said. “There were several schedule changes, as well as cancelled rehearsals, but the kids still brought their best to the festival, and honestly the whole season.”

On top of the remarkable growth of the music programs at both Mark Twain Junior High School and Mark Twain High School, Schaffer also designed the marching band and fall color guard uniforms. “I do the program coordinating for all of our shows, as well as all the drill and music arrangements. I really love putting together a product each year that is custom made for our group,” he said.

In one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a former coworker wrote, “Mr. Schaffer’s enthusiasm is contagious. He is proud to be a Tiger, and we are proud to have him.”

Read about how Schaffer started the three-week fine arts exploratory class at Ralls County Elementary

Sahely Megan

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Music educators are known for juggling multiple priorities, but Dr. Megan Sahely takes it to another level. As the orchestra director at Raa Middle School, a performer with five local orchestras, a private violin teacher and a board member of the Florida Orchestra Association, her plate was already full. But when the orchestra at one of the high schools in her district was in a tight spot with no director, Sahely stepped in and asked to work at both the middle school and high school. Even with the added difficulties caused by the pandemic, both programs are thriving.

Sahely and her fellow educators are teaching in-person and virtual classes. Despite technical difficulties like bad wifi and lack of proper equipment for students, Sahely is dedicated to holding in-person and digital rehearsals (using Zoom breakout rooms) with all of her students. In one of her “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a colleague wrote, “Even through these difficult teaching moments, Dr. Sahely continues to encourage and educate while instilling a love and passion for music in her students.”

Sahely was more than willing to sacrifice her time and some performance opportunities to take on additional responsibilities at Leon High School because of her passion for teaching. “Earlier this year, one of my students shared with me that he would like to major in music education and teach orchestra someday,” she said. “This was an extremely rewarding moment, as it reminded me that what we do as teachers truly impacts not only our current students, but future generations.”

Paschke Becky

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An extraordinary performance opportunity happened in early 2021 for the D’Evelyn Junior/Senior High School marching band — they performed during the virtual Parade Across America for the presidential inauguration on January 20!

Creating memories like this is what makes Becky Paschke such a positive music educator. In one of her “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a colleague wrote, “Becky Paschke is nothing less than AMAZING! Each year, she outdoes the previous year’s performance, and we are left with our jaws on the floor with what she has accomplished.”

D’Evelyn had a history of success before Paschke came to the school, and with consistent high-quality performances under her leadership, Paschke moved the band from 2A to 3A division. “My goal for the band is to focus on what we can do better each day — not to worry about what other bands are doing,” she said. “We always perform for the audience in our mind and make sure we are memorable. When the performance is over, we all ask ourselves, ‘Was this the best I could have done?’ ‘How can I improve?’ ‘Did the audience love it?’”  

Paschke incorporates innovative techniques to make band more relevant and fun. For example, she brought in her vocal colleague to work with the band on singing technique. “I knew that there is no better way to improve intonation than by singing,” she said. “We take those listening skills to our instruments, and our overall sound and intonation has improved so much!”

Paschke is also a board member of the D’Evelyn Education Foundation. This group of dedicated parents, community members and faculty support the academics, activites and athletics at the school. “This foundation has raised money to purchase new instruments and equipment that have allowed for the band to double in size over the past five years,” she said. 

When music programs were defunded or canceled at other schools, Paschke welcomed those students to join D’Evelyn’s band. One student wrote, “For me personally, Mrs. Paschke has instilled a passion for music and the drive to be the best at music as I can be, which has inspired me to pursue music as a career.”

Nagy Phil

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The Innovation Campus of Hilliard City Schools offers specialized and unique learning opportunities for the district’s 7th-12th grade students. Phil Nagy teaches Academy Vibe classes, which are designed to “infuse audio and video production into one offering” for high school students.

“Our intro course exposes students to the basics of songwriting, audio recording/production, story/message creation, video production and editing,” Nagy explained. “The final project is writing and recording an original song and then shooting and editing a music video for that song — with professional-grade gear and software. I teach all of the music stuff associated with that and have a co-teacher who handles the video stuff.”

The advanced Academy Vibe class focuses on “voice and choice” where students select what they want to work on, and Nagy and his co-teacher advise along the way. 

“Seeing students share their soul, in the form of original composition, is just awesome,” Nagy said. “Whether it’s a recording we put out there for people to hear or a live performance (pre-COVID), it’s just awesome to be a part of their creative outpouring!” 

Nagy works closely with the middle school and high school directors because the goal of Academy Vibe is to enhance students’ music education, not replace the music offerings at their home campus. This collaborative spirit was emphasized in one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, in which a colleague wrote, “What sticks out most to me is how Phil Nagy and his students are extremely effective at coordinating their recording program with the rest of the district K-12 music programs, providing recording services for concerts and performances. Our district’s entire music department — in fact, the entire district — is better due in large part to his willingness to work with everyone to help them achieve their goals.”

Moreland Steve

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If you thought that the music program at a parochial school like St. Michael’s Catholic Academy would solely be focused on traditional and classical music, you would be wrong. St. Michael’s uses popular music education as its primary curriculum — the only school in Texas to do so — thanks in large part to Steve Moreland.

According to one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a student wrote, “Just imagine ‘School of Rock,’ but 10 times better” in describing the program Moreland has created and implemented. The Modern Band Lab course, which was developed in collaboration with a nonprofit organization, is “reimaging what high school music education can look like,” Moreland said. The lab involves nine student bands, and one of its more ambitious goals is to create a student-run record label. “Students learn how to take an idea from conception and work all the way through to distribution — the ultimate project-management lesson,” he said. “Our students have been working on original music since January 2019, and they have formed the executive teams for the label and are gearing up for the official launch this spring.”   

St. Michael’s has numerous bands that students can join including Praise Band that perform at chapel services, extracurricular pop/rock/country CruBands (or Crusader Bands) that can be seen at football games and pep rallies, Drumline, Varsity Symphony that fuses popular music and technology, and Tech Crew that handles the sound and recording equipment.

St. Michael’s also has a Music Leadership Team of 10 to 15 students that help plan, organize and host on-campus concerts.

One of his students wrote, “Mr. Moreland pushes us to be not only better musicians, but better students and better people.”

Read about how Moreland started the popular music curriculum at St. Michael’s Catholic Academy

Moore Matthew

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Matt Moore

Associate Band Director/Director of Percussion
V.R. Eaton High School
Haslet, Texas

Just prior to the pandemic, some of Matt Moore’s percussion students at V.R. Eaton High School were selected as winners of the Percussive Arts Society’s “International Percussion Ensemble Competition.” But instead of preparing to travel to PASIC to perform a showcase concert in the fall, schools around the country shut down and conferences, including PASIC, were either cancelled or moved to a virtual format. (Moore’s students performed at the 2021 event.)

Moore immediately realized that not having live musical performances would have a profound negative effect. “Very early on in the pandemic, I put together a social-distanced marimba choir project to help connect percussionists during a very strange time when we were all suddenly home and without live music,” he said. “I received 111 submissions from percussionists all over the world! Middle school to professional level, including a handful of my EHS kids.” The video of the compilation showcases the talent of all the participants.

Thanks to his technical skills, Moore continues to connect with his percussion students through virtual classes with engaging digital content, and he helps them maintain and improve their musical proficiency. In one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a colleague wrote, “Matt’s professional and approachable demeanor have fostered an environment that students thrive in.”

Already a music educator, composer and arranger, Moore decided to add entrepreneur to his list of jobs. He launched Waveform Percussion with Luke Vogt, his percussion co-teacher at Eaton. They incorporate electronic media into percussion education to create music that’s fun to play. “We hope to engage students in a way that meets them where they are — always an arm’s length away from their phone and earbuds and possibly learning remotely from home,” Moore said. “The music is curriculum based and educationally focused, and it’s flexible enough to be used by students in whichever learning environment they’re in.”

Read about Moore and his percussion ensemble’s the long road to perform at the PASIC.

Matchim David

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David Matchim checks all the boxes when it comes to being an impactful and inspiration educator. So it wasn’t surprising to learn that his students at Centennial High School did not let the pandemic stop them from performing. “These are tough times, but our students are flexible, resilient and enthusiastic,” Matchim said. “During the one-week virtual marching band camp at the end of summer, they worked hard to preserve the strong community we have established. They are recording and producing amazing recordings. I’m proud of their grit — their ability to find solutions and persevere.”

Together they produced a virtual show, which was a true team effort with “student leaders teaching during sectional breakouts, the visual team teaching choreography virtually, students sending in recorded video and audio, and in-house directors editing all the pieces together,” Matchim said.

Another area where Matchim encourages teamwork is community outreach. He helped to revitalize the Tri-M Music Honor Society, which has grown to over 150 students. “These student volunteers are always seeking opportunities to support the music community,” Matchim said. “Even in the virtual world, they are sharing performances with nursing homes and providing tutorial videos to younger musicians in our feeder system.”  

Inside the classroom, Matchim and his fellow band director make thoughtful repertoire selections showcase diversity and inclusivity. Last year, his band performed Julie Giroux’s “Bookmarks from Japan” and Arturo Marquez’ “Danzon No. 2, and this fall, they performed Scott Joplin’s “Sunflower Slow Drag” virtually. “Like most organizations, we are reflecting and recognize that we need to do better,” he said. We are working with our students to find pieces that ‘speak’ to them and their diverse backgrounds.”

Under Matchim’s leadership, the music program has more than doubled with 600+ students participating. “While I wish I could take credit for the growth in our music program, it takes a village,” he said modestly. He credits an “amazing” feeder system, a supportive administration and parent community, his band director colleague James Kranz and a dedicated team of music teachers. “We work together with our choir and orchestra colleagues to give our students a great musical experience. We’re a family. We feel it, and the students do, too.”

Martindale Matthew

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Matthew Martindale felt the pressure of taking over the Pride of Shelby County Marching Band — a program with a storied history — and replacing a director who retired after more than 20 years. “The students and community truly embraced me,” he said. “I knew this was going to be a special place when a senior trombone player said, ‘Welcome to the family,’ early in the school year. As the year progressed, the students started calling me ‘Martindad,’ and our teacher/student relationships continued to grow.”

Even though the Pride of Shelby County is the oldest band in the county, it is also the smallest and was in need up many upgrades. In his first year, Martindale wanted to get new uniforms, which were 18 years old. He worked with the boosters to fund a portion of the cost. Then he launched a capital campaign and secured sponsorships that brought in more than $15,000, which was enough to purchase uniforms.

He also received two major grants totaling $22,500 to buy and repair instruments for the middle school beginner band program. “This will allow our beginner band students to participate for free for many years to come,” Martindale said. “This increased enrollment in band across both Columbiana Middle School and Shelby County High School.”

During his second year, Martindale changed the music the band performed from classic rock to a completely different Dia De Muertos half time program he created, which “introduced the students and our small rural community to this Spanish style of music and pageantry. This creative move won the band recognition as ‘Best in Class’ in all categories at a competition that year,” wrote a parent in one of Martindale’s “40 Under 40” nomination letters.  

After winning, his students continued to improve and “at our last competition, we were not victorious, but all their scores had increased dramatically,” Martindale said. Even though there wasn’t a trophy, his students believed they had won. “If you can get your students to realize that competition is only one aspect of growth and that improvement is more important, then you can be happy as a director,” he said.

Read about how Martindale transformed the music program at Shelby County High School

Lipman Jarrett

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Jarrett Lipman has a term for a teacher’s selflessness in engaging and empowering his students: Servant leadership, which “means committing oneself wholly to improving the lives of your students, peers and community,” he said. “It means prioritizing the welfare and needs of your students over your own career goals and teaching your students to share their gifts and talents with others in order to make a positive impact on the world.”

And students, parents and colleagues recognize and appreciate Lipman’s teaching perspective. “I am both excited and proud to see not just the music and performances that Jarrett teaches our children but the life lessons and personal growth they glean from his approach to the music arts and being a better member of the community,” wrote a band parent in one of Lipman’s “40 Under 40” nomination letters.

Lipman started at Claudia Taylor “Lady Bird” Johnson High School when it opened in 2008. “The best thing about teaching at a new school is that you get to help build and shape the culture of the campus from scratch. The sky is the limit,” he said.

However, Lipman acknowledges that this pro can also be a con because you “must demonstrate tremendous patience through the years waiting for the cultures and players to develop. Like any great meal or project, it takes time and a willingness to see it through until the end.”

His patience has paid off — his music program currently has more than 350 members. “We see band at Johnson as a 6th through 12th grade journey,” Lipman said. “Building relationships with students during their formative years on their instruments keep them in band through high school. In high school, we work to find that careful balance between challenging them through high standards and providing them with once-in-a-lifetime musical experiences.”  

The school’s namesake, Lady Bird Johnson, once said, “Children are apt to live up to what you believe of them.” Lipman takes these words to heart. In another nomination letter, a colleague wrote, “Not only does Mr. Lipman continue to push the envelope when it comes to visual and musical design on the field, he always takes time to help others in need.”

Read about the incredible 10-year growth of the Johnson High School band program that required getting approval and funding for a second band hall. 

Kaflik Chris

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Chris Kaflik knows the power of being a student-centered educator because he admits that at the beginning of his career, he wasn’t one. “If you are not student-centered, you might be in education for the wrong reason,” he said. “The earliest years of my teaching — in drum corps, high school marching bands, etc. — was not as focused on the students. It was more about me. I learned from that pretty quickly.”   

Kaflik also stresses the importance of remembering how you felt as a high school student and what you thought about certain topics. “I was not always the most talented student in my high school, college ensembles or drum corps. I struggled in some areas,” Kaflik recalled. “Remembering how it felt to overcome certain struggles and now recognizing that in my current students has helped my teaching and my relationships with my students.”

How he connects with students at Brownsburg High School is definitely one of his strengths. In one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a colleague wrote, “Instead of directionless teaching, Chris has added intention behind his teaching and helped students understand why they do what they do. He has been able to guide students to improve themselves as people first before improving as a musician.” In another nomination letter, a student described Kaflik as “awesome — a first-round draft pick for sure!”

When Kaflik started at Brownsburg, one area he focused on was recruitment and retention. “We want to give students music that will challenge them and stretch their abilities, but we also make sure they are going to feel like rock stars when it comes to performance,” he said. “In marching band, I think the design is a big factor in recruitment and retention. We always want to do something unique and ‘cool’ that will intrigue middle school students, non-band high school students and any audience member to say, ‘I want to be a part of that.’”    

Winning competitions isn’t everything, but in four years, Kaflik has taken Browsburg to the Indiana State Finals and the Bands of America Grand Nationals. “To say it was a turnaround would be an understatement,” a colleague wrote in another nomination letter. “Chris would be quick in giving the credit to a lot of other people, but without his leadership, it would not have happened.”

Jimenez Eric

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Eric Jimenez started his musical career working at various schools in the Houston Independent School District and soon earned a reputation for reviving and growing middle school and high school music programs.

But according to one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, “His most notable and farthest-reaching accomplishment is his work on ‘The Score’ podcast.”

Launched in 2019 by Jimenez and his former coworker, Justin McLean, “The Score” was created from “our authentic and nuanced conversations when we were band directors as Heights High School,” Jimenez said. “We hope to provide positive and exemplar stories of educators serving minoritized students.”

And they are doing just that. Reviews of the podcast call it “essential listening,” “in one word, AMAZING,” “eye-opening,” “a great resource” and “a real gem.”  

The podcast’s focus is on urban music education and topics covered by Jimenez and McLean run the gamut from systemic bias and “white fragility” within music education to “othering” from the perspective of the oppressed and oppressor.

“The Score” is part of their broader mission called the Revival Music Project that “aims to provide resources to educators in urban music education settings,” Jimenez said. In addition to the podcast, Jimenez and McLean offer clinics, presentations and lectures to school districts, teachers and universities.

Currently the assistant director of bands at his alma mater, Prairie View A&M University, Jimenez keeps in touch with many of his former middle school and high school students. “My proudest moments as a music educator is when I get to see my former students graduate from college. Many of them would not have had access to higher education without receiving a scholarship through their musical involvement.”

Irish David

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David Irish isn’t afraid to take risks. He changed the focus of Palo Verde High School’s music program to be “concert-centric,” which was criticized at first, but then commended in the years that followed. “Our focus at Palo Verde is on the standard repertoire that made us fall in love with music,” he explained. “We choose to focus on 30- to 40-minute concerts instead of a competitive marching show. While we still provide our community with a collegiate-style show band, we emphasize falling in love with concert music over competition.”

According to one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a colleague wrote, “Mr. Irish’s creative idea for establishing a concert-centric program has drawn the focus away from competitive results and re-focused on individual student success.” This move has had some financial benefits as well, with graduating seniors earning scholarships that increased tenfold from $10,000 per year to $100,000.

Under his leadership, the enrollment in orchestra has tripled. “Passion, energy and high expectations bring students to our program and keep them engaged,” Irish said. “We bring our feeder schools in each year to perform at a pre-festival concert.  If students don’t know what the next step is, they may never walk in the door.”

Irish finds way to engage his music students. Through a partnership with the Nevada School of the Arts, he instituted a weekly masterclass for strings on each instrument for the orchestra program — the first of its kind in Las Vegas. He also started a vigorous solo and ensemble program and in an innovative community outreach effort, he coordinated grand finale concerts with the local public library. He formed a full symphony orchestra at Palo Verde and created a class for year-round comprehensive symphonic orchestra curriculum.

He also co-hosted the inaugural Las Vegas Concert Band Festival, an affiliate of the Music for All National Festival, which “offers nationally renowned evaluators, an unrated, non-competitive environment, a 45-minute clinic and a peer-based audience block,” Irish said.

In another nomination letter, a former colleague wrote, “David’s teaching style went beyond just teaching the notes and maybe the history of the music. He taught students to feel the music and how to transfer the emotion of that music to the audience.”

Gibb-Clark Andrew

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Andrew Gibb-Clark

Director of Choral Activities, Fine Arts Department Chair
Highland High School
Highland, Illinois

Imagine being two weeks from opening night of your big spring musical production of “The Little Mermaid” when the entire state goes into lockdown because of the coronavirus. Andrew Gibb-Clark had spent the entire budget on the show and he knew that if his choral program was to continue, he had to have a performance in the fall. He received a list of mitigations from the Illinois Department of Public Health that had to be followed for all school activities, and brainstormed with the production team on how they could do the show. “We landed on a drive-in with students performing live inside, and the audience in their cars across the street, enjoying a drive-in movie style musical,” Gibb-Clark said.

The video feed of the students was projected on a large 11×22-foot screen in the parking lot and sound was transmitted through each car’s radio.

“The show went amazingly well and was well attended by the community,” Gibb-Clark said. “I am extremely proud of what my students were able to accomplish putting the show together in only a week!”

“The Little Mermaid” is just one example of how Gibb-Clark has impacted the choral program at Highland High School, which has grown by 50% under his leadership. In his first year, he added a show choir to Highland’s choir lineup that consisted of a capella, mixed, madrigal and chamber choirs. “The show choir started with student interest,” he said. “I told them that I would do whatever I could to get it started.” That meant meeting with other show choir directors and administrators, doing a lot of research, writing an action plan and presenting it to the school board.  “The school board agreed to provide the funds to purchase the necessary equipment to start the program, which has grown every year — providing another performance opportunity for our students,” Gibb-Clark said.

In one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a colleague wrote,” Mr. Gibb-Clark’s ‘the-show-must-go-on’ attitude shows his unselfish caring toward his students.”

Read about how Gibb-Clark started the show choir at Highland High School.

Garfield Willie

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When Willie Garfield was 13 years old, he started a community drumline with a few of his junior high marching bandmates. “That’s when I realized that I wanted to be a music instructor,” he said. “I wanted to create my own program where I could instruct, perform and demonstrate my talents. That was when the Garfield Institute of Music was born.”

And Garfield hasn’t slowed down since. He negotiated contracts with public and charter schools and community organizations in Memphis and opened the first Garfield Institute of Music there. In addition to music, the institute offers classes in dance, arts, STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and leadership.

Garfield soon expanded to Columbia, South Carolina, and he hopes to open Garfield Institutes of Music in Orlando and Atlanta soon.

Garfield has been a strong advocate for music education and a community leader by providing access to music to underserved youth. During the pandemic, Garfield still operated his school, offering classes for free and following proper safety protocols. His school even offered to pick up students and carpool with parents so children could attend music classes.

In one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a colleague wrote, “Willie has led by being among the finest examples of a true professional in music education. He has fought against adversity, obstacles and a pandemic that has not only taken the lives of our loved ones but affected the growth of music education. … and he hasn’t complained one time about compensation.”

Another colleague wrote, “He has gone the extra mile to make sure the fundamentals of music education didn’t pause because of the pandemic. … He has imprinted greatness, discipline, dedication and growth in the community by keeping music alive during a pandemic and not giving up.”   

Garfield knows the lifelong positive effects of music education. “My proudest moments as a music educator is when I see my students follow my path and carry the wisdom and experience they have gained from me,” he said. “I never had the support system or mentors like many educators. I traveled that road alone, being fearless in the eyes of my peers, but this ’40 Under 40′ recognition gives me the courage to stand strong.”

Gamon Michael

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Michael Gamon

Fine and Performing Arts Chair, Center for Creative Arts Director
Harrisburg Academy
Wormleysburg, Pennsylvania

Harrisburg Academy, a private preschool-12th college preparatory day school, has a long and rich history that dates back to 1784. When Michael Gamon began at the academy in 2012, he wanted to grow the already strong music program. He pushed to make strings an integral part of the academy’s music program, and violin became a required course for elementary school students. Realizing that some students simply weren’t interested in playing the violin, Gamon came up with an incredibly innovative and thoroughly modern way to engage all of his students — he created a role-playing game similar to Dungeons and Dragons!

He converted the curriculum into a series of quests and challenges. The game is called “Novice to Ninja” and encompasses seven books that students explore from year to year. Because this is the first year, only Book 1 has been revealed. “Musical selections became a way to cast spells, and our skillful execution determines our success as a class,” Gamon explained. “Technique and scales have become ways to break spells, solve riddles or gain the necessary skills to increase our power.”

Gamon oversaw the building of set pieces of the game’s land of Vitula (the old Latin word from which violin is thought to have derived) as well as a website. He later introduced miniature figures to the game — all of this added to the action and excitement of the story, which motivates students to be engaged and prepared. “Role-playing games are not about winning — they’re about a communal experience,” Gamon said. “Because solving the challenges is as much about applying the correct information at the correct time as performing well, everyone has something to contribute.”

Not surprisingly, the response from students has been overwhelmingly positive with “students drawing connections between logic, literature, science and music,” Gamon said. “My advanced students have been active mentors to other students because the focus of the game is on the skill of an entire class, not an individual’s success or failure.” 

Read more about how Gamon created the world of Vitula around his violin curriculum

Also see how Gamon uses his personal values to help him juggle his workload.

Fields Carmen

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Instead of waiting to be told how and when in-person instruction could resume during the pandemic, Carmen Fields went into action. “When initial news reports linked an early coronavirus outbreak to a choir rehearsal, every music teacher knew we were in trouble,” she said.

Fields and her husband, Nick, who is the band director at Edgewood Middle School, read every report they could find on aerosolization of particles, participated in webinars and researched the square footage of different spaces at their schools. “We constructed a plan that met Butler County Health Department requirements and CDC guidelines,” Fields said. “We addressed how we could teach without performance in-person and remotely. We also included safe options for performance practice.”

Luckily, their administrators, recognizing the importance of music during the pandemic, offered outdoor classrooms as weather permitted and large spaces within the school for safe, socially distanced performance practice.

Even before the pandemic, Fields’ music classes were extremely popular with nearly a quarter of the student population enrolled in them. And she maintains a retention rate of well over 90 percent. In one of her “40 Under 40” nomination letters, Fields is described as an “exemplary” educator who “connects with each student and employs innovative learning techniques.”

Because Edgewood Middle School is in a small rural area, going to see live performances is not an option, so Fields started “Theatrical Thursdays” and “Fundamental Fridays” to bring more curriculum-based learning into the choir room. “By using quality recordings and examples, my students are able to travel virtually to these wonderful opportunities. Without realizing it, they are learning theory and advanced technique,” Fields said.

Fields also started a middle school show choir called Overtures with the choir director at the high school. “We gauged the support of parents and community and then drafted a proposal showing the need for such a program,” she said. “More than 100 students tried out for the 40 spots that first year, and we were off and running.”

Read Fields’ tips for succeeding as a music educator in a rural setting

DiMassimo Christopher

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Reflection is a big part of Christopher DiMassimo’s teaching approach and one of his greatest strengths as an educator. “After each class, I go back to the drawing table and hit it hard to reflect on what worked, what students need to be more successful in the next rehearsal, and how I can ensure that they continue to improve during our next class period,” he said

In one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a colleague wrote, “Chris is equal parts curious, self-motivated and humble. He is never afraid to ask questions to ensure that he understands the components in a project or a lesson.” Another colleague wrote, “Chris’ first concern in any decision he makes is ‘how will this impact my students?’”

DiMassimo already integrated technology into his classroom presentations at Rachel Carson Middle School, so moving to a virtual learning environment during the pandemic did not slow him down. In fact, he was selected to be on the curriculum team last summer to help develop distance learning materials for elementary, middle and high school band directors because the 2020-2021 school year would start remotely. The team worked with the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” to “request the development of videos to assist beginning band students learn their new instruments,” DiMassimo said.

DiMassimo always looks for ways to connect with his students and develop “an authentic, genuine connection,” he said. “Hard work is tough to sell these days, but the pursuit of creating beautiful music together, working diligently toward common goals, and experiencing the payout makes it all worth it! I’ve found that anything I can do to ensure success and satisfaction along the way makes all the difference for students to remain engaged and committed through the ups and downs in our journey.”

He also asks for input from his students, especially since the pandemic started. “This is critical, especially during a time of distance learning,” DiMassimo said. “Encouraging honest, thoughtful feedback through surveys and informal check-ins is a great way to figure out if any of your students are feeling lost, overwhelmed, underwhelmed or unmotivated, and to take action to reach each of them.”

He is happy to share his knowledge and experiences with other educators as well. Along with his mentor, Dr. Arris Golden, DiMassimo co-wrote a two-part article in the North Carolina Music Educator Journal about best practices for student teachers and mentor teachers. “This period of development in a teacher’s career can be a game changer,” he said. “Developing clear communication and a strong, honest and trustful relationship can make all the difference in ensuring a successful student teaching experience for both parties.”

Cox Tiffany

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Dr. Tiffany Cox teaches a lot more than music at Lake Worth Community High School, a Title I school. From her doctoral studies and dissertation research on the discrepancies in music education based on gender and race, she is aware of the achievement and opportunity gaps between low-income students and their more affluent peers. “I encourage my students to take a leadership role in their own educational experiences within and outside of the band room. They are encouraged to identify sources of injustice in their lives and to investigate solutions to improve life for themselves, their families and the community.”

Mental health is another area that Cox has prioritized. She implemented routine mindfulness practice and yoga for her students, and she facilitates a close relationship with the school’s mental health counselor. Most importantly, Cox has worked to tear down the stigma of seeking help and to create a safe space where students can discuss their concerns and hardships. “Students are able to seek help from peers and instructional staff before mental health concerns escalate to a dangerous place,” Cox said. 

When Cox, or “Dr. Ms. C.” as her students call her, started at Lake Worth, there were only nine band members. She immediately sought out grants and DonorsChoose donations to support her program and to make music more accessible. She now has nearly 100 students from different backgrounds and playing skills.

Cox recalls how she felt after her band’s first music performance. “The feeling was an overwhelming wave of pride, happiness and, honestly, just sheer joy,” she said. “I felt the same thing after we earned our first superior medal and first place trophy. Now, in the midst of Covid-19, I feel the same feeling as I see my students persevering through incredible hardships in an effort to keep music alive in their hearts.”

Read about Cox’s transformative and untiring efforts to provide access to music for the young musicians in her district.  

Cox Lydia

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As part of the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) program at Crosby Middle School, Lydia Cox takes a unique approach to teaching music. “The entire STEAM program focuses on innovation and individualized learning,” she said. “Students in my digital music class experience trial, error and reflection through daily exploration of the elements of music using technology. They apply STEAM knowledge and processes through creating podcasts, composing music, and recording and manipulating sounds.”

Beyond her work with the STEAM team, Cox creates a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming. According to one of her “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a colleague wrote, “Ms. Cox instills confidence in each of her students. Many come to her without having any prior knowledge regarding signing or music in general. She is creative in her approach to the curriculum and relating it to our students’ lives. Students have an immense appreciation for her as a teacher, and trust her. They truly know she cares about them as singers and, more importantly, as people.”

Cox finds way to embed music into the everyday operations of the school. For example, she invites school staff to attend informal concerts during choir class where students perform some of their favorite warm-ups and excerpts from the pieces they have been rehearsing. “We have even been known to pile into our principal’s office to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to her,” Cox said.

Her music program also participates in elementary school performance tours and an annual Veteran’s Day program. “I believe that every student in the classroom should be given opportunities to build relationships within their ensemble, create memories and share their growth. And involving our entire school community is a great way to do that,” she said.  

“Singing is such a vulnerable act because it requires students to share a part of themselves, and it is so meaningful when students with different backgrounds, learning styles and values can work together toward a common goal through performance,” she said.

Read about how Cox promotes self-esteem and self-discovery in her choir and digital music classes

Cooney Megan

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When Megan Cooney was hired at St. Ambrose University in 2015, she was tasked with an exciting challenge: start a collegiate marching band program from scratch. “Every aspect of our program has been built by me. I designed the uniforms; we lined every field; we created every student body chant or cheer; my students and I built every instrument storage unit; we take every photo and video; we create every social media post, graphic and audio recording; I assembled every instrument; I built and towed every trailer; I carried every large purchase across campus,” she said. But Cooney wouldn’t have it any other way because teaching students the responsibility of helping to run the music program gives them real-world skills and a sense of ownership regardless of their majors.

In one of her “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a colleague wrote, “The success of the St. Ambrose athletic bands has been awe-inspiring, and the connections Megan has made with her students and high school students in the state of Iowa is nothing short of amazing.”  

Every year, Cooney has added new components to the program, such as additional scholarships, new student leadership positions and new programs like the indoor marching arts ensembles. Although the pandemic stalled some of her plans, she has ambitious goals for the coming years. “Once we get through coronavirus, I want to get back on track with performance preparation, continue to strengthen our student leadership program, create additional part-time staffing positions and begin building our two new competitive WGI programs for indoor percussion and winter guard,” Cooney said.

She also manages to find time for community outreach. Cooney has presented clinics and recruited from area high schools, and she has collaborated with other universities that are interested in how she started St. Ambrose’s music program.

Cooley Kevin

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It seems fitting that the word “cool” is in Kevin Cooley’s name. He is constantly coming up with ideas to grow and improve the music program at Platteville High School. One creative concept that he introduced to students is to “fail harder.” Cooley explained that one of his former teachers used that mantra during a concert cycle and it stuck with him. “Failure is such an important step in learning, but we tend to shy away from it, which ironically leads to more failure,” he said.

Another concept he adapted from his undergraduate studies is “ensembleship,” which is understanding what a musician’s job is in the ensemble. Cooley explained, “I teach my kids to focus on four questions: 1) What is my job? 2) What is my section’s job? 3) What is the ensemble’s job? 4) How do these jobs relate?”

Jazz is a key part of Cooley’s music program. Under his tenure, Platteville’s jazz program has grown and now consists of two full jazz bands and an annual jazz night fundraiser. The jazz bands regularly traveled to jazz festivals prior to the pandemic, and Cooley invites jazz clinicians to his classes. “Jazz offers a more authentic opportunity to explore the creative process for a modern musician,” Cooley said. “Improvising, reading lead sheets, attempting to recreate a specific sound and learning how to communicate with your group verbally and non-verbally are critical skills for students who want to continue their musical pursuits in a less academic setting after high school.”

In one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a colleague wrote, “Kevin’s energy and ideas are contagious! From directing the musical pit, to starting a department-wide jazz fundraiser, to securing several grants to build a digital music lab and recording studio, Kevin has been the engine behind the ideas.”

Read about how Cooley embraced “intellectual discomfort” to expand the musical offerings at  Platteville High School

Campos Jacob

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Jacob Campos, who has been described as a rising star in the band world, didn’t let the pandemic stop him from introducing his band program to elementary and middle school students. He created a drive-through Band Safari that allowed parents and students to see different “safari exhibits” — instrument sections with Franklin High School band members dressed in animal print clothing and playing tunes along the route. Prospective band students were introduced to each instrument in a unique and fun way.

Another drive-through event that Campos spearheaded was a Halloween event where the “elementary students from all of our cluster schools watched our students perform Halloween music while parents handed out candy,” he said. “We had a massive audience, so much so that we accidentally shut down traffice to our school for a mile and a half in both directions. We may have advertised our trick-or-treat event too well!”

When all performance opportunities were cancelled because of the coronavirus, Campos organized “march-a-thons” where his band students performed for the local community. “We took our marching program and turned it into a Macy’s Parade-like performance to take on the road to several of our neighborhoods,” he explained. “We met with city officials and HOAs (home owners associations) to plan safe, socially distanced events. We also stopped in front of several veterans’ homes to honor them by performing their military branch tunes.”

In one of Campos’ “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a colleague wrote, “Like finding a path through a maze, Jacob worked tirelessly to create a plan for rehearsals that would continue to develop the fundamental and pedagogic skills required for excellent student musicianship, while demonstrating great care for students’ social and emotional learning and their physical health in a global pandemic.”

Busch Erin

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In 2018, cellist and composer Erin Busch founded the Young Women Composers Camp (YWCC), a summer camp at Temple University for female and nonbinary students between the ages of 14 and 19. During the two-week camp, students participate in college-level courses and masterclasses with guest composers, and they compose a musical piece for the resident ensemble.

With the pandemic, Busch modified the 2020 camp to be virtual. “The biggest change was shortening our day to last approximately 3 hours — rather than 8 — to cut back on screen time,” Busch said. “We hired individual performers for our students to compose for [instead of an ensemble], so each student wrote for a solo instrument. Finally, we added optional ‘after-hours’ events for students who wished to spend a bit more time together.”

Busch regularly writes letters of recommendation for YWCC alumni and connects them with professionals or organizations that can help them further develop as composers. Feedback from a student who attended this year’s camp captures the impact Busch has had: “[This camp] really changed how I think about composing, and how I believe in myself. I never realized how valuable it was … to know there are other girls and folks out there who are my age, and who compose! I can’t express how priceless this opportunity was to me.”  

Looking ahead, Busch plans to find a new name for the camp. “Having ‘women’ in the name of our program excludes the identities of non-binary and gender non-conforming composers, and we want to actively serve them through a more inclusive organization name.”

Busch also hopes to launch a year-round composition program for local composers in Philadelphia.

Read how Busch started the Young Women Composers Camp and her plans for the camp’s growth

Bock Jenn

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Jenn Bock is never satisfied with the status quo — she always looks to improve her program and isn’t afraid to think outside the box and push boundaries. When she moved to Highland High School, the color guard consisted of just nine students. So Bock recruited junior high students to join the winter guard. “The excitement spread, and our winter program had two guard teams with 35 members in 2019,” Bock said.

Another area that needed updating was the movement program for the marching band. “I try to surround myself with people who are smarter than me in areas where I’m lacking,” Bock said. “I never marched drum corps or even college marching band, so when it was time to modernize the movement program, I hired people who I felt had the knowledge and skills to take us there.” She credits the marching staff for teaching the new marching and dance program to the students — which was done virtually during the pandemic.

When in-person school shut down in the spring of 2020, Bock went into overdrive and coordinated with the booster organization to sew instrumental music masks for the entire 150-student marching band. This effort enabled Highland to have summer rehearsals that followed social-distancing guidelines. According to one of her “40 Under 40” nomination letters, “Since the beginning of the pandemic, Jenn has been relentless in her pursuit of making this a meaningful year for her students.”

Bock has held multiple positions on the boards of music education organizations and is a strong role model for all music directors, but especially for young women who are considering a career in music education. Her message to them is straightforward: “Work hard and have confidence in the work you’re doing. Believe that you’re good enough to be there and then make it so.”

Read about how Bock gradually shifted the culture of Highland’s band

Antonetti Jennifer

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Simply put, Jennifer Antonetti is an organizational guru. She balances working with more than 250 students every day at three schools where she has significantly grown the music programs — doubling enrollment at Robinson Middle School and tripling it at Meadows Elementary. She actively includes and commissions music from under-represented cultures and shows students where the music originated from on world maps that she has posted in the music room. She also uses science and props to teach students how their breathing and body affect sound production on their instruments.

Because of her heavy workload, Antonetti created a way to keep herself organized, which she and her husband developed into a software application tool called BatonSync (read the article about how Antonetti created BatonSync). The software currently has subscribers in 15 states and helps music educators keep track of instrument, uniforms and equipment inventories, as well as student information, finances and more. “We have created a tool for music teachers of all disciplines to be successful,” she said. “We are building a community of music teachers and helping the profession as a whole with our intuitive and innovative software application.”

Another passion project for Antonetti is starting a Kansas chapter of Women’s Band Director International, which will fall under the umbrella of the Kansas Bandmasters Association

But at her core, Antonetti is a music educator. “My favorite thing about teaching is that I get to teach from 5th to 12th grade,” she said. “I love watching the growth process of students from boys and girls to young men and women with their own thoughts and ideas.” 

Read about how Antonetti overcame challenges, obstacles and hurdles to grow the programs at Robinson Middle School and Meadows Elementary

Adelmann Christine

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Christine Adelmann

Band Director
Gompers Junior High School
Joliet, Illinois

Gompers Junior High’s population is 97% minority and 100% low income. When Christine Adelmann interviewed for her position at Gompers, she expressed an interest in starting a mariachi program. “I believed that it would be well-received by the community and provide our students with a culturally relevant musical experience,” she said.

And she was right! The mariachi program launched in 2019 and was so popular that it was offered virtually to the entire district for the 2020-2021 school year.

“As a white non-Spanish speaking mariachi director, I have relied heavily on Joliet’s Hispanic community to make this experience valuable and as authentic as possible. I have always been very upfront with my students, and I told them that this ensemble was going to be just as much of a learning experience for me as it is for them,” Adelmann said.

Her Spanish-speaking students take the lead when it comes to learning lyrics and pronunciation. “This gives our student leaders a sense of ownership over the ensemble and emphasizes that we are all valuable members of the ensemble with important contributions to make,” she said. “I am humbled and grateful that our kids are always excited to share their knowledge of mariachi and their culture.” 

After the first mariachi performance, the community reaction was overwhelming and heartwarming. Adelmann said, “Knowing that we had created an ensemble that the community valued and could embrace brought me tremendous pride as a music educator.”

40 under 40 2021

2021 Yamaha “40 Under 40” — Celebrating Excellence in Music Education

Yamaha launched the “40 Under 40” music education advocacy program to celebrate and recognize outstanding music educators who are making a difference by growing and strengthening their music programs. Their students range from transitional kindergarteners to college undergrads at public, private and charter schools, as well as private music students. Their programs are small and large, brand new and with storied histories.  

In the fall of 2020, we asked for nominations of music educators under the age of 40 who showcased the following characteristics: action (anticipate what needs to be done and proactively take the necessary steps that lead to a stronger music program), courage (propose and implement new or bold ideas), creativity (show innovation and imagination in achieving plans and objectives) and growth (establish, grow or improve music education in their schools and communities). 

We received hundreds of nominations from students, parents, other teachers and administrators, local instrument dealers and mentors.

The selected “40 Under 40” educators below have gone above and beyond to elevate music and music-making in their students’ lives — like Jason Sleppy, who secured the use of Lucas Oil Stadium during the pandemic so his students could have an end-of-year performance; Willie Garfield, who started his music education career as a teenager; Jennifer Antonetti, who created an app to help music educators keep track of inventory, student information and more; Eric Jimenez, who launched a podcast about urban music education; and Michael Gamon, who created a role-playing game complete with set pieces and a website to engage his violin students. 

We are inspired and in awe of this inaugural class of “40 Under 40” educators.

** NOTE: Sign up for the Yamaha Educator Newsletter to stay informed about the “40 Under 40” program as well as other music education advocacy news and information from Yamaha. 

Christine Adelmann

Christine Adelmann

Band Director
Gompers Junior High School
Joliet, Illinois

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Javier Alcántara-Rojas

Javier Alcántara-Rojas

Director of GREAT Academy,
Director of Instrumental Music
Granite Hills High School
Apple Valley, California

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Jennifer Antonetti

Jennifer Antonetti

Instrumental Music Teacher
Topeka High School,
Robinson Middle School,
Meadows Elementary School
Topeka, Kansas

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David Bechard

David Bechard

Director of Instrumental Music
Wahlert Catholic High School
Dubuque, Iowa

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Jenn Bock

Jenn Bock

Assistant Band Director,
Marching Band Director
Highland High School
Gilbert, Arizona

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Erin Busch

Erin Busch

Executive Director
Young Women Composers
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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Jacob Campos

Jacob Campos

Director of Bands
Franklin High School
Franklin, Tennessee

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Kevin Cooley

Kevin Cooley

High School Band, AP Music Theory and Digital Audio Production Instructor
Platteville High School
Platteville, Wisconsin

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Megan Cooney

Megan Cooney

Director of Athletic Bands,
Associate Director of Bands
St. Ambrose University
Davenport, Iowa

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Lydia Cox

Lydia Cox

Chorus and Digital Music Teacher
Crosby Middle School
Louisville, Kentucky

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Tiffany Cox

Tiffany Cox

Director of Bands
Lake Worth Community High School
Lake Worth Beach, Florida

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Christopher DiMassimo

Christopher DiMassimo

Assistant Director of Bands, Guitar Teacher
Rachel Carson Middle School
Herndon, Virginia

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Carmen Fields

Carmen Fields

Choir and General Music Teacher
Edgewood Middle School
Trenton, Ohio

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Michael Gamon

Michael Gamon

Fine and Performing Arts Chair,
Center for Creative Arts Director
Harrisburg Academy
Wormleysburg, Pennsylvania

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Willie Garfield

Willie Garfield

CEO
Garfield Institute of Music
Memphis, Tennessee

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Andrew Gibb-Clark

Andrew Gibb-Clark

Director of Choral Activities,
Fine Arts Department Chair
Highland High School
Highland, Illinois

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David Irish

David Irish

Director of Orchestras,
Associate Director of Concert Bands
Palo Verde High School
Las Vegas, Nevada

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Eric Jimenez

Eric Jimenez

Assistant Director of Bands
Prairie View A&M University
Prairie View, Texas

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Chris Kaflik

Chris Kaflik

Director of Bands
Brownsburg High School
Brownsburg, Indiana

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Jarrett Lipman

Jarrett Lipman

Director of Bands
Claudia Taylor “Lady Bird” Johnson
High School
San Antonio, Texas

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Matthew Martindale

Matthew Martindale

Director of Bands
Shelby County High School and
Columbiana Middle School
Columbiana, Alabama

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David Matchim

David Matchim

Director of Bands
Centennial High School
Ellicott City, Maryland

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Matthew Moore

Matt Moore

Associate Band Director,
Director of Percussion
V.R. Eaton High School
Haslet, Texas

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Steve Moreland

Steve Moreland

Director of Fine Arts
St. Michael’s Catholic Academy
Austin, Texas

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Phil Nagy

Phil Nagy

Music Teacher
McVey Innovative Learning Center
(Part of Hilliard City Schools)
Hilliard, Ohio

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Becky Paschke

Becky Paschke

Instrumental Music Director
D’Evelyn Junior/Senior High School
Denver, Colorado

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Megan Sahely

Megan Sahely

Director of Orchestras
Leon High School and Raa Middle School
Tallahassee, Florida

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Doug Schaffer

Doug Schaffer

Director of Bands
Mark Twain Junior/Senior High School
Center, Missouri

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Jason Sleppy

Jason Sleppy

Band Director, Mason Middle School
Marching Band Director, Mason High School
Mason, Ohio

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Willie Snipes Jr.

Willie Snipes Jr.

Director of College Bands
Miles College
Fairfield, Alabama

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Don Stinson

Don Stinson

Director of Bands
Joliet Central High School
Joliet, Illinois

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Tyler Swick

Tyler Swick

Elementary Music Educator
Robert and Sandy Ellis Elementary School
Henderson, Nevada

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Brian Teed

Brian Teed

Director of Percussion,
Associate Director of Bands
Wakeland High School
Frisco, Texas

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Celina Velez

Celina Velez

Music Director
Cayuga Elementary School
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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Giselle Vento Banda

Giselle Vento Banda

Pre-K-5th Music Specialist
Parkdale Elementary School
Waco, Texas

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Vincent Vicchiariello

Vincent Vicchiariello

Director of Bands
Nutley High School
Nutley, New Jersey

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E.J. Villanueva

E.J. Villanueva

TK-4th General Music,
5th-6th Instrumental Music Teacher
Orange Grove Elementary School
Anaheim, California

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Tim Walck

Tim Walck

Director of Music, Yearbook Advisor
Austin Area School District
Austin, Pennsylvania

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Aaron Zeilinger

Aaron Zeilinger

Director of Instrumental Music
Orange Lutheran High School
Orange, California

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Cory Zilisch

Cory Zilisch

Director of Orchestras
Westport Middle School
Louisville, Kentucky

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