This weekend, Holy Spirit Preparatory School’s band is heading to Walt Disney World to participate in a music competition for students. To learn more about the Disney band trip, the HSP music program, and other upcoming concerts, we interviewed our band director, Thomas Kieffer. Read about his journey into music education, his reflections on the joys and challenges of being a music teacher, and more.
Everyone’s musical journey is unique. When did you start playing music, and what musical influences impacted you growing up?
I started playing and singing back in elementary school. My parents had both my brother and me in piano lessons for years, and I was very invested in fine arts during elementary school, spending time in the choir and art club. I began playing the saxophone in middle school, and in high school became heavily involved with it, in addition to learning mallet percussion instruments. My high school band directors definitely influenced my decision to become a band director. Their passion for what they did, how they interacted with us, and how much fun they had working made my choice to pursue Music Education in college an easy one.
How did you decide to pursue music education as a career?
The biggest impact on my choice to pursue music education was being in the marching band and indoor drumline in high school. They were both absolutely fantastic experiences where I made lifelong friends. Those programs inspired me to create a similar environment for my students, knowing that it would be something that I would truly enjoy doing for a vocation. Going into college, I got to see the band director side of marching band and indoor drumline, and boy, was it a lot of work. Working as a tech with many different high school front ensembles gave me the experience I needed for my future career. When I student-taught a middle school band, I found my people. Student teaching completely changed my outlook of what I thought my career would look like, and I couldn’t be happier with the choices I’ve made to get where I am today.
What do you enjoy most about teaching HSP students and being a band director?
One of most enjoyable aspects of teaching at HSP is introducing music to students for the first time, starting with the 4th graders. The beginning band class is so crucial to the outcome of every student’s success in playing an instrument. Not to mention that they are extremely excited about getting to play an instrument — you honestly would have thought that “Hot Cross Buns” was the coolest song on the planet. They are little sponges that want to know anything and everything about the instrument that is currently in their hands. The students here at HSP have been invaluable to the accomplishments that have been made in the program. Their constant practicing and patience in the face of challenges with their prospective instruments is the reason our band program is thriving.
How do you get students interested in music? Why is music important, and what are the benefits of studying music during middle school and high school?
I think the biggest way I can get students interested in music is through music selection. We work really hard to find pieces that students will enjoy. Sometimes we really hit the mark and students come to class wanting to play only that piece every day. My hope is that their enjoyment of these pieces can morph into the exploration of music outside of their normal listening.
Music is possibly one of the most important things to be a part of while you are in middle and high school. The biggest benefit is a sense of belonging and acceptance. It was HUGE for me going from middle school to high school. There were people that I already knew in the music program when I went into my first year of high school, and it truly made the transition so much easier for me. In any music class, the people that you are around will become lifelong friends – sometimes even your spouse! The next benefit is the potential that music has for you to be creative and expressive. Having a structure and framework in place while being able to express yourself in your playing is extremely beneficial. There were many times where I used instruments to properly work through my emotions – and being able to do that without words can be a great benefit for many. Finally, music encourages teamwork. While most students are involved in a sport and understand what teamwork is, there isn’t a bench for band. Everyone is relying on each other to have their music learned, and they all must work together towards the final product. Think of it as the biggest group project students will ever be a part of during their schooling.
What have been some of your favorite moments as a teacher over the past year?
Some of my favorite moments have taken place during student trips. We just recently took the 4th and 5th graders to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. For a lot of them, it was their first time seeing a professional orchestra – and the orchestra put on an absolutely amazing performance for those kiddos. Being able to expose them to the professional arts is an awesome experience. Another thing I love is when I’m in one of my classes and get to see a student have that “Ah-ha!” moment. It happens quite frequently in the younger grades, but when a student has it after playing for a few years, it makes it all the more special.
As band director, what is your vision for the music at HSP?
My biggest goal is for students to play their best. I believe that has come out in every single performance, with increasingly difficult music being performed wonderfully. Through the dedication of the students and community, I believe we can reach levels never before seen in a Catholic school band program.
What can the audience expect at the upcoming spring concert?
The audience will be in for quite the variety of music at the spring concert. We worked hard to have a good mixture of pieces for every band. They can expect to hear concert band music through different styles, along with some of popular soundtrack pieces. One piece that the Symphonic Winds will be performing, “Procession of the Nobles,” might be the hardest piece I’ve ever put in front of a middle school band. They have been working on it very diligently, and I believe you will see the fruits of their labor come out in their performance.
Can you tell us more about the Disney band trip, and what that entails for the students?
This spring, the HSP band will participate in a student music competition at Walt Disney World. Around 1000 people are expected to be in attendance, and we are really looking forward to performing for such a huge audience! Every piece being performed is fun, since it’s from a Disney movie soundtrack, but I definitely have a few favorites. I would say my first is the Medley from Mulan. The piece runs about 8 minutes long, and the students will definitely be getting their workout in! My second is going to have to be the Mandalorian theme. I’m a huge Star Wars fan, and it’s another piece that I believe has truly challenged the students.
For more information about upcoming HSP Band performances, go to our event calendar and select “Event Category: Visual and Performing Arts.” View the individual event posts for details about HSP’s Disney band trip and Spring Concert