By Dean Westman
Dean Westman is the Performing Arts Department Chair and Orchestra Director at Avon High School in Avon, Indiana; a member of the Music for All Educational Steering Committee; and a Board Member for the Avon Education Foundation.
Dean was named the Texas Young Bandmaster of the Year. He continues to teach groups and present clinics throughout the United States and Japan, including at the Midwest Clinic, the Texas Bandmaster’s Association Convention, the Colorado Bandmaster’s Association Convention, the Texas Music Educator’s Association Convention, and other state conferences. Dean is a native of Park Ridge, Illinois, and a proud alumnus of the University of Illinois. He lives in Plainfield, Indiana, with his wife Adrianna and their 16-year-old daughter, Abigail.
How long have you been teaching?
DW: This is my 21st year in education. 19 of those have been spent teaching at the high school level in Illinois, Texas, and Indiana, with two amazing years spent serving as the Educational Director at Music for All.
How did you come to be at Avon School District?
DW: Avon has a very proud tradition with the band program. Dr. Maggie Hoernemann, who is our Superintendent now and was an Associate Superintendent back in 2007, felt that Avon needed a string program to truly have a comprehensive performing arts program. I was the lucky person that was hired to found the Avon Orchestra and the goal from the start has been to create great musical experiences for our students, school, and community.
You founded the Avon Orchestra program, first at the middle school program then the high school. Can you tell us about that process?
DW: I founded the Avon Orchestra with 38 6th grade beginners in the fall of 2007. The next year we added another class of 70 beginners and continued to build from the ground up. We now serve over 700 string students grades 6 through 12 in five buildings with three Orchestra Directors. The very first class of beginners graduated this past May of 2014. We have 180 students performing in four orchestras at Avon High School this year and will grow to around 240 high school orchestra students next school year.
“I would encourage young music educators to find teachers that are making music at the highest level, and develop relationships with them. Social media makes it so much easier to connect with colleagues than is used to be. It just takes that moment of courage to introduce yourself and it will change your life.”
How is the high school and middle school program structured now?
DW: Intermediate School students start in the 6th grade and then head over to our middle schools for 7th and 8th grade orchestra. In addition to the classroom orchestras, we have co-curricular orchestras that rehearse before and after school for both the 6th grade beginners and our middle school students. Students audition to perform in those ensembles.
What are some of the recent honors and recognitions the Avon orchestra has earned?
DW: This past May, the Avon High School Symphony qualified for the Indiana State School Music Association State Orchestra Finals for the first time, and ended up 3rd at State Finals. It was a very special way for our very first class of beginners to end their orchestra experience. The Avon Middle School Orchestra was just invited to perform at the 2015 Midwest Clinic this December in Chicago.
This is not only a first for our program, but a first for Avon. What makes it even more special is that the Avon High School Brass Choir and Saxophone Ensemble were also invited! Last year we also collaborated with our Band and Dance program to stage a complete version of “The Nutcracker” by Tchaikovsky. It was a massive undertaking and a very unique opportunity for high school student performers. We engaged the entire community of Avon, including a Children’s Chorus, the role of Uncle Drosselmeyer being performed by our Principal, and the role of Mother Ginger being performed by our Superintendent. It was a fabulous experience for the entire community. This May, we will be traveling to New York City with the Symphony Orchestra, Wind Symphony and Dance Company to perform at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at NYU. We also just found out this past week that the NAMM Foundation has named Avon as one of the “2015 Best Communities for Music Education.”This is a first for Avon and we are thrilled!
Tell us about the relationship this year with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.
DW: It’s hard to put into words the positive impact that our educational partnership with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra has had on our program and the community of Avon. Our students had the chance to observe a 2-hour ISO rehearsal in the Hendricks Regional Health Performing Arts Center at Avon High School. Avon orchestra and band students grades 6 through 12 have had clinics with members of the ISO, and we are hosting 4 Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra performances at Avon High School as part of their new “317 Series.” It has been amazing!
“Music for All seems to deliver on its mission to create and provide positively life-changing experiences for students every single time.”
What advice do you have for a teacher in the position of starting an orchestra program?
DW: We live by the Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser philosophy of “to become the best, surround yourself with the best!” I work with two outstanding string educators. Keith our 6th grade beginners and Joel Powell is our Ziolkowski teaches all of middle school director. Their commitment to the growth and development of the program is the biggest driving force behind our success. It’s also pretty amazing to be able to collaborate with band directors like Jay Webb and Matt Harloff. Both are Hall of Fame caliber music educators and dear friends.
What are some things you wish someone had told you at the start of your teaching career?
DW: That’s an entire interview in itself… I will tell you that I’ve had a lot of people throughout my career that have served as valued mentors. I would encourage young music educators to find teachers that are making music at the highest level, and develop relationships with them. Social media makes it so much easier to connect with colleagues than is used to be. It just takes that moment of courage to introduce yourself and it will change your life.
How have you been involved with Music for All and Bands of America?
DW: I’ve had many positively life-changing experiences participating in Music for All and Bands of America events as the Director of Bands at Stephen F. Austin High School in Sugar Land, Texas, and have been lucky enough to serve on the staff for three Rose Parade Honor Bands of America. I was there for the very first Honor Orchestra of America back in 2005 and have both during my time as Educational Director for MFA and my time in Avon have maintained an active role as an Educational Consultant for MFA’s Orchestral Programming. I’ve served on faculty at the MFA Summer Symposium and my daughter Abby will be performing in the Summer Symposium Orchestra for her 3rd year. We send around 15 Avon students to Symposium every year and they love it!
What are some of the memorable moments from your MFA/BOA experiences?
DW: Seeing the growth of the Honor Orchestra of America over the past 11 years has been a magical experience. Larry Livingston, Music Director for the Honor Orchestra of America has played a vital role in my life and has been there to support the Avon Orchestra since the day we started the program.
What do you think Music for All has to offer orchestras?
DW: Music for All seems to deliver on its mission to create and provide positively life-changing experiences for students every single time. It’s mind blowing to me. Whether it’s watching my students perform in the Honor Orchestra of America, or watching my own daughter go through Leadership Development with Fran Kick at the Music for All Summer Symposium, it’s an organization that delivers at the highest level. I owe Music for All so much for what the organization has done for me, for my students, and for my family.
What do you like to see Music for All focus on or accomplish in the next 40 years?
DW: I don’t know how you top the first 40 years, but I plan on being around for the next 40 years of being around THE BEST!