Tooting Your Own Horn
Jeffrey Stevens, beloved band conductor and music teacher, reflects on his time at Monument and what he plans on doing next
May 5, 2016
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Music Before Teaching
Jeffrey Stevens has been around music his entire life. Having musicians as parents led him to listen to a lot of music, and, at the young age of 10, Stevens began his career with the trumpet. Since then his “whole life, really, has been about the trumpet.”
After high school, he went to Hartt School of Music and California State University. Immediately after graduating Stevens began teaching. After his retirement, it will be the first time he’ll be out of school in over five decades. Being a music teacher, “you have to study all the instruments to a certain extent,” which means Stevens has a general knowledge of all the 15 different instruments in the regular and jazz band. Not only can Stevens play an abundance of instruments, but he also sings! At the 2016 Pops Concert, Stevens surprised everyone by busting out in song to the music of “Let’s Get Away From It All” with the passionate band behind him. His mother and grandmother sang professionally, so “it’s always been in my [Stevens’] genes.”
Sharing the Talent
Stevens has been working at Monument for 34 years with both middle and high school students. Although the middle school students are a little tougher to work with, Stevens helps these kids “find their own voice.” This can lead to new members advancing into the more professional high school band.
As a 50-year-old veteran in the music department, Stevens knows “it’s hard work.” Having band practice every day for 45 minutes can be overwhelming for students. A good work ethic is very important in a band, “each day we try to make it a little better,” states Stevens. It’s all about setting and accomplishing those goals.
Stevens finds the band very rewarding, and claims, “it keeps you young.” As music departments in schools all around the county diminish, band members, music and art teachers, and the general community have already begun taking a stand on why these important departments should stay an integral part of the school system.
As society moves forward, and “people are more dialed into digital technology, and kind of separated from each other and separated from nature, I think arts education and music education in particular, is more important than ever,” Stevens explains.
Music is vital for students to learn about society, communication and themselves. Stevens feels “everyone should have music in their life. I really believe that.” It isn’t just the band that’s important, he explained, but it’s singing, composing, and everything else that has to do with music.
And All That Jazz
Throughout a school year there are a number concerts. This includes both the winter and spring concerts at Monument, and concerts at Farmington River and Richmond School. Also there are concerts at Muddy Brook and Monument Valley. However, the highlight of each concert season is the Pops Concert, often held at the Mahaiwe Theater, where Stevens and the MMRHS band and Jazz bands are joined by well-known musicians and vocalists. Past performers include Livingston Taylor and The Interlopers, and this year’s guests were Wanda Houston, Robert Kelly, Robert Putnam and Jay Bradley.
In addition, Stevens conducts the band for musical performances at pep-rallies, assemblies, Special Olympics, graduations and four parades on Memorial Day. The band is the “go-to musical ensemble for any kind of school ceremony,” says Stevens.
Each and every concert Stevens has done is “special. It’s like your children; you can’t pick a favorite.” He has a hard time looking back and deciding what is one thing that really stands out because to someone who’s been able to experience students “really grow up,” every moment is special.
Stevens thoroughly enjoys sharing his experience with the students at Monument, especially when it comes to the jazz band. “I’ve played with a professional big band for the last 15 years, so I’ve learned a lot about the style [jazz].” A big band is typically a jazz music ensemble, which contains trumpets, trombones, saxophones, and a rhythm section. The 18 piece Amherst Jazz Orchestra, which Stevens has been a part of with many other musical professors, plays the 1st and 3rd Monday of every month at One: Bar & Grill in Northampton, MA.
When It’s Over
After having working at Monument for more than three decades, it’s safe to say there’s a lot Stevens will miss. The kids, and “the individual people I get to know,” are among the largest aspects Stevens will miss after retirement. It is going to be quite the transition after having the ability to teach and learn from kids since their sixth grade year.
“I will also really miss the preparation and working on the music, cause that’s really what it’s about. Everyday rehearsing. Pulling stuff apart, and putting it back together,” he explained.
Stevens will continue with music “one way or another.” Playing with the Amherst Jazz Orchestra and other various bands gives Stevens another “almost full time job.” He will also find himself working with kids in private trumpet lessons.
This “new chapter” is a way for Stevens to ask himself, “What can I do?” and then act on that notion. There’s only one thing Stevens knows for sure: his future is “definitely going to involve music.”