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    Categories: Lifestyle

Marching to the beat of a different drum

For students who are musically inclined,  high school band teachers can be more than course instructors. They can be a mentors, guides and a resource for making music beyond the year-end concert – perhaps toward a career path as a performer or fellow instructor.

Kyle Swenson is looking forward to the challenge of being just such a mentor, or at least a memorable band teacher, as he moves from several years running the junior high band program in Namao, to picking up the baton at Sturgeon Composite High School.

Swenson is already a well-regarded band teacher at the age of 33, bringing a list of credits to his decade of teaching. The talented Edmontonian is a music/drama grad from Victoria School of the Arts and the U of A, where he earned his teaching degree before heading off for a year at an Australian high school music program.

Now Swenson is making the move from the Grade 6-9 students he guided at the Namao School in Sturgeon Public School Division for eight years, to a bigger cohort of musicians gathering at Sturgeon Comp. And with the spot vacated by beloved music teacher Darwin Krips (though he’ll still be in the school) Swenson knows he’ll have to prove himself to a new bunch of music makers.

“I’ve enjoyed pushing junior high bands as far as they could go, but it’s exciting to start fresh again, to direct new pieces and repertoire at a more mature level,” says Swenson, who will have his hands full guiding an 80-plus piece student band gathered from the feeder junior high schools in the district.

And even though it’s all about the band, Swenson says career highlights thus far include teaching K-9 life skills, and teaching a music therapy-type class that reminded him how universal music is. Swenson said music has the power to communicate, or create a calm or escape for players and listeners alike.

This year, it won’t be just the clarinet, flute, trumpet and sax players Swenson will direct. He will also lead a school jazz band, choir, jazz choir and guitar classes. The multi-instrumentalist, (piano at age 3, saxophone major in university, guitar teacher and doubler on horns as needed), intends to dabble in some cross-country running too. If that doesn’t keep him busy enough,  he will once again play in the St. Albert Community Band. 

“I’m starting new, but a lot of what I’ll do will hold true to the music program that Mr. Krips established,” says the high energy Swenson. “Many students will already know me from their junior high band – they know what I’m about.”

What he’s about is finding partnerships and innovative opportunities for his students – things like the CBC radio contest his junior high created an arrangement for last year, claiming a top 3 finish. Or taking part in the district-wide Sturgeon Night of Music at the Winspear, which showcases all the school’s musical groups. And then there’s the chance for band workshops and mentorship with the U of A.

“I hope to continue the tradition of musical excellence in Sturgeon, the teacher collaborations, clinics and band camps. But the students may notice some differences too, like my love of thematic music to tell stories in band. And I’d love to have a piece commissioned just for us,” Swenson says.

“I’ll also bring my own take on ensemble playing, and to introduce contemporary, new age music to students. It’s a natural, supportive transition for me to move from junior to senior high, and I can’t wait to get started.” 

Lucy Haines: Lucy Haines has been a freelancer writer for the St. Albert Gazette since 2012. She writes features on travel, food, seniors, homes and gardens.