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What a Difference a Director Makes

Mike Lawson • Perspective • December 13, 2016

This is the 19th annual “50 Directors Who Make a Difference” issue of SBO. We were, once again, blown away by the heartfelt, inspiring stories shared with us about these band director and orchestra leader candidates. It isn’t easy to choose the final names for each state. In fact, it’s rather difficult. This isn’t a popularity contest, so the most submissions doesn’t garner a spot on the list, though it certainly gets attention if the entire band gets together to enter their director and say amazing things.

We read tales of band directors going the extra mile to make a new student in their school feel welcome, or taking the time to really connect with a student who is experiencing a life crisis at home. There are stories of dedicated teachers who are retiring soon, who’ve worked tirelessly for thirty years or more, dedicated to their programs in astounding ways too numerous to describe here. The stories are sometimes submitted by new band directors who’ve followed their band director from their high school orchestra into this profession, are now teaching with them and want to honor their mentor.

On the opposite side of the coin, there were veteran band directors who shepherded a student into a budding career as a band director, who’ve nominated the new director who is already making a big impact on their program, sometimes even working as the assistant in the program they came from prior to college. Those stories of a student following in a director’s footsteps and taking over a program are humbling. Who wouldn’t want to inspire somebody to make a life decision to follow them into a noble career?

We had administrators from the vice principal and principal level to school superintendent submit nominations, telling us how their directors worked all day from dawn to until well after midnight to take their band out of town for a performance trip, and then made it right back to school the next morning again at the crack of dawn, expressing their admiration for their dedication and lobbying for SBO to include them in this issue. There were even a couple of spouses who submitted their director husband or wife, telling us about the music programs they have witnessed them develop and lead, and speaking of their undying support for their loved one’s efforts to maintain an exceptional program even when it means long hours, time away from home for performances, festivals and student trips, fundraising, rehearsing.

All in all, its inspiring stuff, folks. The bottom line here is each and every one of these directors made a difference in the lives of their students, in the development of their school’s music program, impacted the culture of their communities, and led their students to a lifetime of love for music. That’s a big deal. As the product of a school music program myself, I personally think it’s a really big deal.

All of the band directors who are reading this make a difference. In one way or another they touch lives and change them forever. Many of those students show up at school solely because their music teacher is on the job and giving them something to look forward to each day. That’s something I will always remind you of, because I know it’s true.

I won’t sugar coat it, trying to round up responses from fifty band and orchestra educators during what is their busiest time of the year isn’t easy. It’s a lot of work, takes a lot of emails and follow-up phone calls to schools to let folks know this is an actual honor, not something being sold, not a spot in a phony who’s who listing, not a scam to sell a plaque, and the email we sent wasn’t spam. My assumption is a music director’s inbox runneth over with junk, so seeing you’ve been selected for this issue is probably easily overlooked, ignored, or deleted. That all said, this year’s class of 50 Directors Who Make a Difference earned a gold star for getting their information in, putting thought behind their questions, and giving SBO a group we can really be proud to present to you. Next year, for the 20th annual issue, we hope to see you nominated and read about the great things you do.

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