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UpClose: Owen Bradley

Eliahu Sussman • Features • April 9, 2008

Not Just a Band Director

Owen Bradley is technically the band director at North Port High School in North Port, Florida, though the title “band director” doesn’t give full credence to the extent of Mr. Bradley’s efforts. More than simply leading the school’s thriving orchestra, marching band, and jazz band, Owen is actually teaching. He’s using music as a medium for exploring a broad range of topics, from co-curricular concepts incorporating other academic subjects to technology and the future of music production.

Indeed, this last point is a source of pride for Mr. Bradley, as the integration of modern music technology into his daily classroom routine has enabled him to reach an often unaccounted for segment of North Port High’s student population the self-driven and self-taught, technologically-savvy kids who in their free time experiment with GarageBand, Reason, Audacity, and similar high-octane music-producing programs.

 

In this SBO interview, Bradley provides some insight into precisely how the latest technology is revolutionizing not only the creation and production of music, but also the role of music educators in this new and rapidly evolving world.

School Band & Orchestra: How did you first become involved in music?
Owen Bradley: I’ve just known I was going to be a band director since the 10th grade.

SBO: Did you play music prior to that?
OB: Yes, I played in elementary school, but I never really got turned on to it until I got to high school. There, I really just caught fire. Something hit me that being a band director was what I wanted to do with my life. I had had some experiences as a student leader, and when I was put in the situation I seemed to have a knack for it. Then I went on to FSU and studied music education.

SBO: Can you tell me about your first teaching experience?
OB: I started right out of school. I was an assistant at Southeast High School in Bradenton. I actually got to teach with my former high school band director. It was kind of odd: I went to two different high schools when I was a kid. I started at Port Charlotte High School, where I really got turned on to band and music, and although I ended up graduating from another school, I never lost touch with that first band director. It turned out later that we both applied for jobs at the same program he as the head and I as the assistant. And we ended up teaching together.

SBO: What kind of opportunities did you have while you were still in high school?
OB: I was student conducting and was in charge of the brass choir. I would tutor I wouldn’t call it private lessons because I wasn’t that good, but I’d work one-on-one with kids who needed some help to try to get them to play better. I just loved it. At that point I knew that that was exactly what I wanted to do.

SBO: Was the opportunity for student mentoring a regular part of your high school music program’s curriculum?
OB: Yes, there was a really strong precedent at Port Charlotte High School for student conductors. It was a big deal; every year someone was chosen and I can think of at least one other person who’s moved on from that situation to a successful career in music education. It was an honor to direct the band, and it was one of those things we aspired for going through the high school program.

I’m currently on the executive board at the FMEA in charge of developing mentoring in Florida. As I was getting my start, help was always just a phone call away. If I didn’t know what music fit my band, or if I needed someone to come in and rehearse my students, or if I just needed to bounce an idea off of someone, I was able too simply pick up the phone and call my old band director or somebody else in the area who was a respected band director.

SBO: I’m sure that help was invaluable. So you finished school and started working as an assistant under your old high school director; what happened next?
OB: As an assistant director I was able to get my feet wet in a situation where I had constant feedback. I grew my skill there until I was ready to direct my own program. It was about three years before I went to Bay Shore High School, in the same city, and ran that program on my own. I was there for seven years.

After that, I took over the program at Southeast High School when their director left. That program had split it was a huge school and there was a new high school being built. The administration needed someone to come in and ease the transition. So I went back for another three years to help them through that period.

Around that time, a colleague of mine, a former band director who went into administration, called me to say that he was going to be named the principal of North Port High School and he wanted me to be his band director. This meant that I knew two years before the school was even built that I was going to be named to that position and I was going to help build the school and outfit it and everything. I’ve been in on the ground floor of this school since it opened.

SBO: What was it like coming into a situation where there’s no existing program and building it from scratch?
OB: [laughs] I always thought that that was something I wanted to do, it was like a dream to do it, but now that I have that experience, I never want to do it again.

 

Owen Bradley’s Tech Tools at a Glance

 

• Computer recording (Audacity)

• Virtual instruments (Sample Tank XL)

• GarageBand

• Sequencing software (Ableton Live)

• Music notation and scanning software (Finale, Sibelius, PhotoScore Professional) with keyboard controllers

• Guitar amp modelers (Line 6 PocketPod)

• Electronic percussion (Alesis DM5Pro, Korg PadKontrol)

 

On the Web:
www.numu.org.uk/station.asp?lngSiteID=1620

Mr. Bradley’s Blog:

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