“I believe that being a music educator is less about the ornate spires and more about the individual bricks that build the castle,” says Justin Antos. And he has amassed a number bricks to form a strong foundation for his students at Dwight D. Eisenhower High School, Saint Xavier University where he is the band director and Trinity Christian College where he is an adjunct professor of music.
Antos’ formula for growing his music program? Building morale and establishing a culture of respect and encouragement is an integral first step. “I celebrate little victories constantly to enhance my students’ sense of pride,” Antos says. “I also try to be as visible as possible. I talk with students in the cafeteria during their lunch periods, I walk with them in the hallways during passing periods and I attend their athletic events and non-musical performances. When students see than I am committed to them and that our program provides a safe and familial environment, new students flock to take music classes.”
Eisenhower’s population is 90% low-income, and most students in the band and orchestra learn an instrument for the first time once they arrive at the school. Antos doesn’t let these statistics deter him. He discovers what they enjoy and then structures his curriculum and classroom activities to align with those interests. “When students contribute to the design of the educational landscape, learning happens organically,” he says.
He has had students earn full rides to competitive music schools and Ivy League universities who go on to become professional musicians or music educators. “On the same token, I have also had students struggle to produce a beautiful sound on their instruments for the longest time to then one day FINALLY be able to play with great tone quality,” Antos says. “In the end, the accolade means less to me than the sense of accomplishment.”
Antos’ musical advocacy goes beyond Eisenhower High School, Saint Xavier University and Trinity Christian College. He donated the honorarium he received as a top 10 finalist for the Grammy Music Educator Award in 2021 to Advocate Children’s Hospital of Oak Lawn’s music therapy department. The hospital provided a wish list of instruments, and Antos purchased hand drums, Gato boxes, wood blocks and pitched handheld instruments.