In Fall 2020, Ben Pedersen was hired as the Director of Bands at Foreman College and Career Academy to restart the band program, which had been dormant for years. He spent the summer before inventorying equipment and watching hours of YouTube tutorials to repair enough instruments to send home for virtual learning.
Once in-person teaching resumed, Pedersen recruited band members by talking to students in the halls, offering lessons after school and practicing with his door open to draw in students curious about what they were hearing. “I’ve emphasized arranging music for my ensembles to ensure students at beginning levels can play music that is historically significant, fun and culturally relevant,” he says. “Now, four years into the program, we offer five sections of band, we have won awards — Outstanding Woodwind Section at the Jazz in the Chi Festival and an ILMEA All-District selection — and about 25% of the school population participates in the program.”
Pedersen uses his school’s location in Chicago to introduce even more musical culture to his students. “When transitioning to public school education from a career as a freelance trombonist, a primary goal of mine was to bring great Chicago artists into my school and bring my students out into Chicago’s vibrant music scene,” he explains. “Foreman has been visited by numerous guest artists, including legendary Chicago artists like saxophonist Eric Schneider and bassist Dennis Carroll, and each visit was paired with a field trip to see them play at a jazz club in the city that night. The experience of getting to meet and work with artists, then seeing them perform in the real world brings the music to life for students.”
Pedersen also works with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Jazz Institute of Chicago. Foreman hosted a member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) Orchestra for a clinic with our jazz ensemble. The visit was paired with complimentary tickets for students to see the JALC Orchestra play that evening at Symphony Center — an incredible experience.
“We have also been fortunate to participate in a Jazz Institute program which pairs Chicago jazz artists with schools to provide multiple guest visits to the school as well as tickets and transportation to the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts to see prominent jazz artists perform live,” Pedersen says.
Foreman serves a diverse student population from a range of cultures within Chicago and from around the world. Most of Pedersen’s students have not had the opportunity to play musical instruments or take a music class before. “I am proud to be able to share my passion for instrumental music and help students achieve success in an area of study that they may have never known they would be interested in. My ultimate goal is to create lifelong appreciators of music,” he says.