The band program at York Middle School in South Carolina is above all, a nurturing environment, thanks to Director of Bands Dylan Sims. “I have a very diverse band program,” he says. “We have students of varying cultures, economic standings, and personal preferences and identities, and that’s something that I’m incredibly proud of. The magical thing about band and music in general is that it’s something that brings people together.”
Sims has a discussion with his students at the beginning of each year about how they are all different, how they all have talents to bring to the program, and how they all should be celebrated!
While Sims promotes the band room as a fun place where students come to make music together, he also has high expectations for student performance and behavior in and out of the band room. “As individuals, they are representing our program no matter where they are,” he says. “We hold each other accountable for our performance. When one of us is struggling, it’s not uncommon for students within a section to ask for a sectional or to schedule time to help each other out — yes, this can happen at the middle school level!”
The music curriculum is aggressive, but students are enjoying the challenge. Sims’ teaching approach is called “gradual release of responsibility,” which allows students to take ownership of their ensemble. “At the beginning of the year, I teach students how to rehearse, things to listen for and how to make intelligent musical comments,” he explains. “From there, they take on more of the ‘fixing’ responsibility. By the end of the year, many of my students are able to tell me what’s wrong, how we need to improve it, and many will even call sectionals with their sections to improve it.”
Technology plays a large part in Sims’ class, too, with the use of drones, tuners and metronomes during class, as well as software like SmartMusic and Canvas. Students can use these programs independently if they are in a practice room to improve their skills.
Sims has forged relationships with several local universities to help his students as well as to provide teaching opportunities to college students. York’s current partnerships with Winthrop University and Limestone University provides outstanding performance opportunities for Sims’ students. “It’s not uncommon for the band room to have studio teaching staff in the band room weekly,” he says. “Additionally, we offer our band room up to these universities for college music students to come in and teach masterclasses, private lessons and get some real experience of being a band director like dealing with finances and logistics.”
So far this year, York has been able to help eight future music teachers through this partnership!
For the 2023-2024 academic year, Sims moved to Gold Hill Middle School in Fort Mill, South Carolina, as the Associate Director of Bands.