At University of Northwestern St. Paul (UNW), Cassandra Bechard oversees several bands and ensembles that are diverse in musical backgrounds (including music majors/minors and non-music majors/minors) that come together to create exhilarating concerts. “What I am most proud of is not only the level of music-making, but the community building that the ensembles strive for,” she says. “Band rehearsals end at dinner hour on campus, and as a result there are daily band dinners. The community aspect of the program is strong and filled with kindness, care, respect and love for each other — it’s a very special program.”
Bechard plans to add an honor band day, something she started when she worked at the University of Dubuque in Iowa, where she saw an opportunity for more university-sponsored honor bands in the region. She collaborated with her colleagues in the fine and performing arts department and admissions to create an annual high school honor band day. Students are nominated by their band directors and if selected, they have a day full of rehearsals, a campus tour and a free concert that is open to the public. Bechard says that the University of Northwestern St. Paul will host its first high school honor band day in January 2023.
Prior to joining the faculty at UNW, Bechard taught high school band in South Dakota and encountered a common problem that she and her colleagues around the state faced — finding appropriate repertoire that fit the instrumentation of their ensembles. She tackled this problem head on, and during her doctoral degree, she focused her research on finding and cataloging repertoire for small wind chamber ensembles (8 to 16 players) that are at or below the grade level of IV. Bechard reached out to composers to write music, and she continues to support this area of research through presentations with her colleague, Dr. Melanie Brooks, from Winona State University and by joining consortiums for adaptable music.
Bechard’s proudest moments as a music educator is when former students connect with her to share their accomplishments. “What a privilege to be thought of and sought out to share exciting news with years after they have left my rehearsal space — there is nothing better,” she says.