Stapp Inspires- The Sound Track of High School

Welcome back to this month’s Stapp Inspires Teacher Highlight! This month we step into Josh Kirkwood’s band room. Josh is the band director for Mead High School. He has been at the school since 2009 when the school opened. As a former band kid myself, I was excited to have the opportunity to highlight what happens in music rooms across the district.

Josh Kirkwood

As Josh and I walk into the band room, we are greeted to the sounds of students practicing different music, others working getting caught up on homework and others just a break from their day. We get settled down in his office and a guitar class provides background music as we meet.

The stream of students in and out never stops. Some need to warm up lunch, a few need a chocolate fix (the band is selling candy bars as a fundraiser). Josh knows them all by name. Instead of being an interruption they are part of the rhythm that exists in this corner of the school. About 25% of the student population is involved in the music program in some way. Mead High School offers four band classes, three orchestra classes and five choirs. It is not uncommon to see a cheerleader or football player marching during halftime.

Josh and I begin our conversation with the early success of the band. Within two months of the school being opened they were receiving superior ratings at competitions. With any new program you are trying to find your identity and what is going to be important. Josh had tried to be a competitive band, but quickly realized that wasn’t a good fit for this band. Instead, they focus on being a show band who marches cleanly, plays songs people can sing and dance to and most importantly have fun.

Josh is a proud papa bear when he talks about his kids. He sees the students struggle and wrestle with music he puts before them. He encourages them to work on it, play it again and again until they get it. The students probably don’t realize the lessons he is so quietly (or perhaps loudly, depending on musical notation) teaching them. That they can persevere and work through challenging obstacles. It might take some time and you will have to rely on those around you, but don’t give up, you have what it takes to make it. He instills and requires a certain amount of respect for each other and themselves. You will find his band standing and applauding for the other schools performing at the District Band Night or when they compete. He encourages his students to thank those who have served in the military.  He feels if he can get a student out of their own way, they are capable of accomplishing so much.

I asked Josh what makes being a music director so enjoyable. He pauses for a moment while he ponders my question. “Band kids are the coolest kids,” he begins,” They are also some of the smartest too. We are able to move and connect to the world in a different way. They are just good kids to begin with.” Josh is well aware that he has a unique place in his students lives. Most teachers will have a student in their classroom for a semester or two. Some of his students will enter his classroom every day starting with their first day freshman year to the last day of their senior year. The band room becomes a haven for these students. A break in an otherwise busy day. Where they can take a moment, come together and create something beautiful.

While this seems to a pretty serious conversation, the mood quickly turns. We start talking about pep band. Apparently Josh’s feeling is what is the point of home court advantage if you aren’t using it? This is where the stories start being told and I couldn’t control my laughter if I tried. As a former band member I remember that being put in a gym, which is pretty much an echo chamber. Most of us take it as a personal challenge to see how loud we could get. It’s good to see that somethings never change and these kids have taken it to heart. At some point in time the band was asked not to be so loud or use their instruments while the basketball game was being played. Remember when I said that band kids were smart? They had permission to make noise and now opponents face a laundry list of barn yard noises.

 

I had one last question for Josh before I left. I asked Josh if he could tell his seniors one thing, one piece of advice to pass one before they graduated from his band room, what would it be. As he thinks about it, I can tell he is thinking of each and every student who is in band. He is reflecting on the four years of time they have had together. The memories, successes, failures, the jokes they have played on each other. His words are few…..”Don’t forget how wonderful you are.”

 

 

 

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