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2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Douglas Brown conducting

Douglas Brown

Director of Bands, Jazz Ensembles, Hip Hop and Digital Music
Middleton High School
Middleton, WIsconsin

Director of Bands Douglas Brown has a deep passion for traditional music forms like band, choir and orchestra, but he knows that these aren’t the preferred mediums for all students at Middleton High School. “To bridge this gap, I introduced a curriculum centered around hip hop and digital music production,” he says. “This curriculum not only resonates with the changing dynamics of the music scene but also caters to a wider array of student interests.”

The success of Brown’s program highlights the significance of evolving music education to align with the varied interests and ambitions of students. “Each year, we see hundreds of students enthusiastically engaging in these classes, which has nurtured a strong community of budding musicians in our school,” he explains. “It’s particularly heartening to witness students from this program advancing to higher education in music production and carving out successful careers in the industry, including roles as hip hop artists, producers and sound engineers.”

Middleton has a state-of-the-art hip hop/music production lab and recording studio. Every student has access to a production cart, which is equipped with a laptop, digital audio workstation, audio interface, power conditioner, microphones, digital/analog turntables, a MIDI keyboard and reference monitors. These stations enable students to perform live DJ sets during lunch breaks and transform any classroom into a production and recording space. Brown emphasizes and appreciates the collaborative effort required to create the lab, recording studio and individual production stations. “All this was made possible through the support of our school district and the generosity of numerous dedicated and enthusiastic donors. Their contributions have been instrumental in bringing this visionary project to life, greatly enriching the music education experience for our students,” he says.

Brown also encourages collaboration among Middleton’s diverse music class offerings. “This collaborative spirit is evident in various projects, such as when our digital music students record and produce albums for the singer-songwriter class, or when our advanced music composition class writes pieces for one of the bands, choirs or orchestras,” Brown says.

A particularly innovative collaboration involved pairing DJs and rappers from the hip hop class with the marching band. A team of creative music writers that included students and professionals composed a marching show that fused elements of acoustic and digital music. The show featured a diverse array of instruments like multiple synthesizers, vocoders, electronic wind instruments and turntables, as well as a rapper who performed verses and spoken word poetry. A highlight was the construction of a central DJ booth on the field, complete with a wall of speakers. “This groundbreaking collaboration not only showcased our students’ diverse talents but also broke new ground in blending traditional and modern musical genres in a live performance setting,” Brown says.

In addition to overseeing the hip hop and digital music courses, Brown also conducts the marching band, four curricular instrumental music ensembles, the percussion ensemble, two extracurricular jazz bands and has over 300 students involved in the band department at Middleton High School. “I often joke that I gave up sleep years ago, but in truth, my passion for what I do fuels me with incredible energy, especially when it comes to serving my students,” he says. “Managing the multifaceted aspects of this role is undeniably challenging, but it’s made achievable thanks to an amazing wife, who is a great musician and educator in her own right, and a team of music educators, private instructors, adjunct faculty and support staff. Each member of this team plays a crucial role, and they deserve equal recognition for the success of our students.”