The Westfield High School band has a hashtag — #BandFamily — that resonates with students, staff and families. According to Director of Bands Chris Vitale, “The key ingredients of #BandFamily at Westfield are kindness, acceptance, respect and support. We are proud that we have students from every walk of life within our school community in the band. Each year, I am amazed and inspired by how accepting our students are of each other no matter what the circumstances.”
Vitale considers himself lucky not only because of his students and their families, but because he works in a supportive district filled with talented and dedicated music educators, including his co-director, Trevor Sindorf.
To motivate and inspire his students, Vitale maintains a good balance between high standards and positive support for his students. “And I have always tried to be bluntly honest with my students,” he says. “When they do well, I tell them … and when they don’t, I don’t shy away from making that known. They appreciate the honest approach and the sense of accomplishment that they feel when they reach their goals is far greater as a result.”
Every other year, Vitale runs a leadership book club that is open to any student. The club reads Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” over the course of several months and meets before school every few weeks to discuss various topics covered in the book. “I keep things very casual and try to let the students drive the discussions,” Vitale says. “The agenda of the book club is for everyone involved to learn more about themselves, myself included. Each time we run the club I learn from my students, which I find very fulfilling!”
Vitale views high school band as a vehicle to build good humans. “Through music we can teach acceptance, empathy, communication, accountability, time management and teamwork, among other things,” he says. “I tell students that you don’t have to be best friends with everyone in our band, but you do have to learn how to work together and help each other be successful. By helping others, you create a better experience for yourself — a win-win. If I can teach that and foster a love and appreciation for music along the way, then I think I’m doing everything I set out to do as an educator.”
Vitale is also a leader throughout the state and helped start the New Jersey Marching Band Directors Association (NJMBDA). “After the 2019 marching season, directors throughout New Jersey began conversations regarding a need for an organization solely focused on providing an educationally sound marching experience for the bands of our state,” he explains.
The nonprofit NJMBDA had over 70 high school bands join in its first year. “We look forward to growing in 2022 as an organization run by directors focused on providing world-class adjudication at a low price,” Vitale says. “We have a fantastic team of dedicated educators working together to drive the organization forward, including my co-president Erik Lynch [from Verona High School].”