Johanna McGuire grew up listening to jazz. Her grandfather was a jazz musician and often played Charlie Parker and Miles Davis in his home.
“I grew up listening to jazz, and it inspired me to learn how to play the saxophone,” said Johanna, a senior at Meade High School.
The 17-year-old started taking saxophone lessons when she was 8. Today, she plays alto saxophone in Meade High’s jazz band and is also a member of the school’s steel drum band and pit orchestra.
“I love music,” she said. “I love that it allows you to be creative and there are no boundaries and you can express yourself.”
Johanna is one of 15 students in the steel drum band, which is led by Alexander Scott, the chair of Meade’s music department and director of its six music ensembles.
Scott said his personal philosophy of music education centers on the idea that all students, regardless of their ability and musical background, should be “encouraged to shape their own unique musical identity.”
“In my own program, I believe it is essential to build a school culture that encourages students to be risk takers within the music program,” Scott said. “In celebrating each individual’s accomplishments, instead of valuing and competing them against each other, students will feel emboldened enough to experiment within the program and join whatever ensemble they want.”
Meade High’s six ensembles for the school year are the concert band, string orchestra, marching band, steel drum band, pit orchestra and jazz band.
In addition to concerts at the high school, the music ensembles often perform seasonal concerts as well as at home football games, school functions and special events such as the jazz band’s performance last year at the National Conference for International Technology Educators Association at the Gaylord Hotel in the National Harbor.
The steel drum band is scheduled to perform May 12 at 7 p.m. at the high school with guest Victor Provost, a steel drum percussionist who The New York Times called “a serious jazz improviser.”
Scott said his ideal of music education for all is a “fairly ambitious goal.”
“I myself have constantly endeavored to reach all of my students in the classroom using the tools of differentiating instruction and enfolding their own musical goals,” he said, noting that his philosophy is rooted in his graduate studies at the University of Michigan. “I believe in offering a multitude of ensembles in which they may elect to participate. The traditional large ensembles of band, chorus and string orchestra should not be a student’s only option.
“Providing them with additional opportunities such as jazz band, jazz combo, steel band, pep band, marching band, pit orchestra and symphonic orchestra allows students to see and experience a wider scope of musical opportunities that exist in the real world.”
Zachary Sotelo, a senior in the International Baccalaureate Programme, is a member of the steel drum band and five other music ensembles. He began as a violinist, taking lessons at age 3, and then went on to learn to play percussion instruments in sixth grade at MacArthur Middle School.
“Whenever I play music, I feel engaged,” the 17-year-old said. “No matter what it is that you’re playing, you are it at the center. There’s no substitute for you.”
Zachary said music is a central part of his life and he has learned to balance school rehearsals with his homework and social life. Music also has been helpful with other subjects such as math.
“I’m slightly smarter,” he said. “There are small doses of math in music. Each note has its own length, and whether it’s long or short, you have to add or subtract.”
Zachary said being a musician can be a challenge — he is currently practicing for a percussion solo for the May 12th concert. But, he said, it is also a privilege as a Meade High student.
He said that when he plays at concerts, he is embodying what Meade High School stands for — and that is a source of pride for him.
“I like representing the school well,” Zachary said.
Meade High has a chapter of Tri-M, the national music honors society. Zachary is the chapter’s president. The society recognizes student music achievements within the school.
Several Meade High graduates have continued to study music in such colleges as Towson University, Anne Arundel Community College and the University of North Texas. Four of last year’s graduates earned music scholarships.
Scott said the growth of his students is what makes his job a pleasure.
“The most rewarding part of my job is that ‘light bulb’ moment for so many of them,” he said. “When they finally start to understand and perform confidently, they surprise themselves with their own capabilities. And that is more rewarding to me than any physical reward could possibly be.”