“Of course you would find a way to turn a vacation into an excuse to march in a parade,” Matt told me. He had a point. Most normal people wouldn’t sight-read Sousa marches in a parade while on a vacation, but could you really blame me? It was, after all, the first time I had ever been offered the chance to march in a 4th of July parade in Boston, and it seemed highly probable it would be my only opportunity to do so. The former all-state trumpet player had come from New London to deliver his prized Bach Stradivarius to me for the event. As we spent a few hours together in Boston that morning, we reflected on our musical journeys. We both started out in the same beginning band high brass class at Bailey Junior High in Arlington, TX. Since then, I have been blessed to know some great musicians and music teachers throughout my life, and have learned many priceless lessons along the way.
My beginning band director Dr. Cynthia Houston taught me to be passionate about music. She had high standards and pushed us to give our best effort. The next significant educator to cross my path was Mrs. Linda Keefer. I remember walking into my first full orchestra rehearsal one day, and sitting down in shock to see the Eb horn part to Marche au Supplice from Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique. I knew there must be some mistake, because I played an F horn. I learned better. Over the next three years, we played music by Rossini, Schubert, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Borodin, and Saint-Saëns just to name a few. The crowning achievement for me was playing the horn solos in the 4th movement of Dvořák’s New World Symphony on stage at UIL Concert & Sight-Reading contest. I’m pretty sure that performance was the only time I got all of the notes right including the exposed high B, and the energy that flowed from the ensemble was palpable. Linda Keefer taught me to play the masterworks and to play them extremely well. It was because of her love of great music that I planned to become the conductor of a major symphony. A bachelor’s degree in music education was the next logical step. The University of Texas at Arlington was not my first choice, but it was nearby. I was offered a scholarship to be in band, and I could afford to go there, so it quickly rose to the top of the list. While I was teaching lessons to help pay my way through school, I began to realize how much I enjoyed teaching middle school students. Perhaps I could teach middle school band instead of conducting a professional orchestra. While pondering this possibility, I took a class called Perspectives in Music Education taught by Dr. Anne Witt. I enjoyed the topics we discussed and was fascinated by the philosophical lens through which she viewed music education. Two things that had a lasting impact to this day are her insistence that we teach “musicians” rather than simply teaching “music” and her advice to spend a few years teaching before pursuing graduate study. My next step then, was teaching band for a few years so that when I went to graduate school, I would have a deeper understanding of how to focus my studies.
The first few years of teaching band were eye-opening as I struggled to improve my classroom management skills. As a quiet, well-meaning student who attended school to learn, I quickly came to understand that not every student at Mineral Wells Junior High had the same educational approach. After two years there, I realized it was time to start afresh in a new environment. Unbeknownst to me, the arid climate of the Texas-Mexico border was where I needed to be, and a 6th grade band teacher was exactly the job I needed to be doing. Teaching over 150 beginners each year for five years gave me a pedagogical foundation like nothing else could have done. While in Del Rio, I had the privilege to work alongside Mr. Jesse Brijalba, and “Mr. B” quickly became my mentor. I recall one occasion in which I was upset at a student for not knowing his music. After class I spoke harshly with him in the band office and made it clear that he needed to learn his music “or else.” After the student left, Mr. B just turned to me and said nonchalantly, “Chill, Wagner.” Since that day, those simple words have resonated in my mind any time I am confronted by misbehaving or unmotivated students.
The next step was a move to San Antonio where I assumed the role of high school associate band director. Fine Arts Director Mrs. Monica Ruiz-Mills has encouraged me to pursue graduate study by helping pay my way to professional growth sessions such as the TMEA and TBA conventions, a MECA course in Chicago, and a SmartMusic seminar at Texas State University. She gave me opportunities to teach staff development sessions to our Fine Arts department regarding Charms Office Assistant and SmartMusic. While in San Antonio, I also took advantage of my proximity to so many master teachers by observing numerous rehearsals, inviting guest clinicians to my rehearsals, and cultivating lasting friendships with some of the top music teachers in the state.
In the last half of 2015, my parents were both going through extremely trying situations in their lives. I knew that my skill set would be of tremendous value in helping them both navigate through these times. I made the difficult decision to temporarily resign from teaching and move to Arlington to be close to my family and help them through this challenging period. As things have now stabilized more for both my parents, I am looking to begin using my teaching skill set more effectively.