Beyond the Viper band hall

Caitlin Hall, VHS 2012 graduate, University of North Texas 2016.

Jonathan Carruthers, VHS 2016 graduate, Baylor University student.

Korynn Fink, VHS 2016 graduate, University of Utah student.

VHS Alumnus

The band directors at Canyon Ridge Middle, Four Points Middle, and Vandegrift High, also known as the Vandegrift cluster, are well-known throughout the state of Texas and the nation for

inspiring the best in their students. The directors turn potential into incredible products of marching and musical excellence.

However, the beauty in what these directors do is that they don’t just teach music: they’ve learned how to inspire and create genuinely good people in the students that walk out of their doors, some of whom dream of becoming music educators for a new generation of students.

I’m fortunate to be one of five alumni of the Vandegrift programs that are now pursuing music education careers at universities around the nation. In my time away from Four Points, I’ve

seen first-hand that these programs are truly second-to- none. Nowhere else comes close to having the kind of camaraderie between teachers of all levels that is present in the Vandegrift cluster and the push to teach life through music is undeniably present.

These Vandegrift cluster directors including the current team — Mike Howard, Katie Rozacky, Stephanie Grote, Christopher Lee, Amy Allison, Jonathan Villela, Jessica Gonzales, Amanda Dawson, Carter Matschek — are genuinely outstanding people.

Caitlin Hall is a VHS 2012 graduate, University of North Texas 2016 graduate, and now an associate director at Poteet HS in Mesquite, Tex.

She recalls the good spirit of her VHS directors after the drum majors hid a metronome droning a steady pitch in the ceiling tiles of their office. They also didn’t take accidental mistakes too seriously. The band staff at all of the local schools “taught me how to have fun while striving for excellence and that teaching children life skills through playing music is the best job in the world,” Hall said.

Hunter Smith, VHS 2016 graduate, University of North Texas student, and Taylor Gaskins, VHS 2015, UNT student.

These directors are the models of selfless leadership. These ten men and women take pride in not just telling, but showing what leading from the heart truly means. They stay long after on competition days to finish emailing their students and parents with words of encouragement and

pride no matter what the results. They also tend to be the first ones at school in many cases to get their busy days started. They also take the time to help a lone clarinet player in way over her head in audition music.

For Korynn Fink, VHS graduate of 2016 and University of Utah student, the Vandegrift cluster directors taught her that “the other key to being a successful leader, and learning the skill of leadership, is forming honest relationships with the people you lead,” Fink said. “The directors are honest with us because they care about their students, and they give everything they can to help us understand that this style of leadership is effective beyond words.”

She said she wouldn’t be the future educator, leader, musician, or person she is today without the influence of her band teachers.

“I found a home in their band halls and in their offices, asking a million and one questions about band, music and life in general. The directors took a self-conscious, insecurity-ridden fourteen-year- old and helped her find her voice through music,”  Fink said. “If I can help just one of my students do the same, this hard work will be worth it.”

Jonathan Carruthers, VHS 2016 graduate and Baylor University student, also applauds his local band experience.

“The directors constantly echoed a fundamental truth about band: it helps students grow up in so many areas, be it discipline, leadership, professionalism, accountability and in countless other ways,” Carruthers said.

We’ve learned that the band hall is no longer a place, but an atmosphere and a culture that we will create for our students once we enter the teaching world. These directors did that for us. Now it’s time for Vandegrift alumni to return that favor to our current and future students.