When it comes to encouraging students to give it their all, band director Troy Anderson says take the leap and yell “Geronimo!”
By that he means hold nothing back. Blow those horns and pound those drums with gusto.
“Why are you so scared of making a mistake?” Anderson recently asked his Kelloggsville High School band students as they were learning a song. “Please stop being scared of making a mistake. I need you to play big, whether it’s right or wrong. Geronimo. Jump please.”
Anderson leads his middle and high school bands by expecting the best, but still letting students know getting there is a messy process. Mistakes are part of the experience. He finds himself giving the Geronimo speech quite often.
“It’s a way to get them to realize that there are certain things that just aren’t that serious,” he said. As a student Anderson was timid about performing, and, as a result, missed out on experiences. “A lot of times they make mistakes because they’re scared,” he added.
|Notes of Praise
Comments from some of director Troy Anderson’s band members, as compiled by fellow musician and student journalist Alexandrea Groters:
Instructing Lifelong Musicians
Anderson has spent the last dozen years encouraging Kelloggsville sixth- through 12th-grade bands to take the leap. During that time, band numbers have grown at all grade levels, even tripling at the middle school.
A trombonist, drummer, music writer and gospel music lover, the Northview High School graduate received his degree in instrumental music education at Western Illinois University.
He now directs 264 students with help from assistant band director Amanda VanderMeulen. When Anderson started, there were 64 students in the high school band. Numbers in recent years have ranged between the 80s and 90s. At the middle school, numbers have grown from 27 to about 75 sixth-graders, from 30 to about 60 seventh-graders and from 15 to 50 eighth-graders.
Since his first year, Anderson has opened the high school band room during lunch to everyone, even non-band students, welcoming them to eat and hang out. People schoolwide became more aware of the band.
“You open it up, you let people in,” he said. “It changed a lot of things. It got to a point that we started to get asked to different events we normally didn’t do. … They got to know the kids.”
First- and second-place competition finishes have been numerous, but Anderson said it’s much more important to him to see music become a lifelong part of students’ lives. With middle school students he’s witnessed many moments when students first realize they can play and perform. “I get kids who don’t say a word and by the time they graduate they are section leaders, or drum majors.”
He often watches performances of former students who have gone on to pursue music careers and degrees. “That to me is the best thing,” he tells students. “That you enjoyed it so much here that you’re willing to go on (with music) from here.'”
Anderson’s dedication impresses middle school Principal Jim Alston.
“His passion for the music and band in general is contagious,” Alston said. “So when he travels to the elementary buildings to talk to incoming middle school students, the majority want to take part in band because they see his passion for music.”
Drop and Give Me Five
Despite his openness to trial and error, Anderson demands accountability, from his students and from himself — with pushups.
While holding his podium during class, he performed five fast standing pushups after high school band students let him know he had forgotten to pause in the song they were practicing. If a student makes a mistake on the field they drop and give him five or run laps.
One time Anderson owed his students 25 pushups, which he did on the football field during marching band practice. “None of us are above the rules, we all have to follow them, even me,” he said.
Alston said Anderson provides the right mix of nurturing and high standards.
“He impacts them as musicians by allowing them to grow. He challenges them to get better every day. Those students benefit from his teaching style of holding them accountable for the music material, but building great positive relationships with them at the same time.”
Those relationships continue after graduation, Alston added: “Troy always has someone coming back to see him and talk to him.”
Music and Burger King
Anderson, who has performed around the nation and the world, is the music minister at Shepherd’s Arm Ministries and writes music for other churches. He plays drums for the Flat River Big Band, trombone for Big Band Nouveau and in the Grand Rapids Symphonic Band.
But he became inspired to become a teacher while working at Burger King for 10 years, beginning at age 10. He became a trainer and manager by 18, and the job served as an anchor as he worked his way through college.
Even then, “I loved teaching,” he said of leading the Burger team employees. “I love music and I love teaching, so I just put it together.”
He especially loves teaching at Kelloggsville, a very diverse district, because of the differences students bring to the band. In his music appreciation class,he encourages students to bring in music representative of their cultures, from Korean music called K-Pop to African music. They also bring in food, another one of Anderson’s favorite things, and the band banquet becomes a spread of international foods.
“I’ve had so many great kids,” he said. “That’s what I love about the district, even beyond the music. Like any band director, I try to foster a good family atmosphere. I try to pride myself on this being a safe zone.”
The impact of that at the middle school is immeasurable, Alston said. “Band students are some of the most positive, academic students in the building. The more students we have involved in music and the fine arts, the better our behavior decreases and our scores increase. So to have someone like Troy in our building, pushing our students and growing his program, the better we will be as a whole.”
With a consistent message and stellar music, Anderson gives students faith in their own abilities — and the courage to yell “Geronimo!”
“The only thing I do is give them the ball and say here you go. You’re a family,” he said. “Really they do it all on their own.”