Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Final Thoughts

Wow, that title looks pretty serious, I guess...  I thought I would send one more blog post out to everyone before I head out Friday, though, so here you go.

First of all I'd like to thank all of you for your support over the years.  There have been many parents involved in the successes here, and of course the students have always proven to be ready for almost anything I've thrown at them.  It has been great to watch the program grow from the 75 students I started with in 1992 to over 200 today.

I also would like to take another moment to talk about the transition to our new teacher.  As I've mentioned before, there were two directors immediately preceding my employment.  Dan Ritsema, who many parents studied under, was here for 28 years, and Robert Pollock for one.  There was no transition after either of them were finished.  That fact, and other events in my and my children's music education experience, is why I decided to announce my retirement when I did.  We have all had about six months' time to process the situation, find and hire a new director, and spend some time getting to know him.

There will probably be some missteps in the future, and I imagine there will be some things done differently that people simply won't like.  And as I try to think of how I should phrase a reply to that, my father's voice keeps popping into my head (he'd have been 96 last week): "tough."  Not much of a sympathizer, my old man...  

Mr. Bhattarai will be different, and that's OK.  During this transition period, please remember that I was new once, too, and did things that were different (the Memorial Day cemetery service is vastly different than it was 25 years ago, and don't get people started on the "Zeeland Corner"...), and gauge your reaction appropriately.  Understand, as things change, that this new director has the trust and backing of me, the PA department, and the administration.  We all know that he will be great.  He will also be different.  Everyone has had some time to think about all of these things, and we are moving forward with confidence in the program, the students, and the parents as well as Mr. Bhattarai.  My goal was to make this as smooth as possible, and I believe we have done that.

This program has changed over the years.  The schools have grown and become two high schools.  The community has grown.  The course offerings and athletic program have grown.  And through it all, the band has been there.  We have experienced the sadness of students who have passed on, and we have shared the joy of students who marry their high school band sweetheart (12 couples at last count). 

A few years ago I asked the kids to write a note to a potential incoming band student, and one of them turned in, "band is like a family full of five-year-olds, and Walker is like the grandpa in charge of the whole thing."  While there is much to be said about that, in many ways it's a pretty true statement.  The band became an extension of my family - I was reminded at the gathering on Memorial Day of the baby shower they threw for me before Nathan was born back in 1993, and the dancing that happened with Erin at the jazz band dinner dance.

In short, thanks for everything.  I have appreciated each and every contribution to the program from parents and students.  I hope that you all have learned as much as I have through the years.  I will leave you with this, which was written by a student somewhere in the US; I think it's appropriate at this time for all of us:

"Before you leave the band room for the last time, stop and take a look around for just one moment.  These four walls have seen you at your worst and at your best.  They have watched families created and families fall apart, they have seen love between two people and one-sided crushes.  They have seen your most joyous days and maybe melancholy ones.  They have seen the person you were when you walked in for the first time and now have seen the person you are for the last time.  And when you turn back around and walk through the halls for the last time, know that those walls are silently weeping, and maybe you are, too, because you both have realized that in order to go somewhere in life, you must first leave home."

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Memorial Day/Graduation Details

A few questions have come up regarding next week's schedule, etc., so I thought I'd do a quick post.  And it was even quicker than I thought, because I copied and pasted from two years ago...

Memorial Day and graduations are approaching; here is what you need to know:

  • DATE:  Monday, May 28
  • TIME:  Report to Cityside MS by 8:30 a.m. - parade begins at 9:00 a.m.
  • The HS BAND ROOM will be open by 7:45 a.m. for people to get uniforms and instruments.
  • IN CASE OF RAIN the parade has been canceled in the past.  Please pay attention to the band's website, student/parent email, Twitter, and Facebook for updates.  The parade is rarely canceled before 8:00 a.m., so you will most likely already be starting your preparations for it if they do cancel.  Right now the weather forecast looks OK, but no promises.
  • Following the parade, the SYMPHONIC BAND and WIND ENSEMBLE students will proceed to the cemetery for the memorial service.  We will play America the Beautiful, Battle Cry of Freedom, and the national anthem.
  • Immediately after the parade all Concert Band students will return to the band room to turn in their uniforms.  ALL uniform parts should be accounted for, including pants, coat, hat, and hanger.  You may keep your shoes for next year - please take them home.
  • Immediately after the cemetery service the Symphonic Band and Wind Ensemble will return to the band room to turn in their uniforms, including TUXES and DRESSES.
  • SENIORS who choose not to march are expected to email Mr. Walker and let him know, though this should have been done by last week at least...
  • SENIORS who choose not to march are still responsible for turning in their equipment BY MONDAY, MAY 28.  This year we are not collecting donated shoes from seniors.

GRADUATION ceremonies are Wednesday, May 30 and Thursday, May 31.
  • Wednesday, May 30 - EAST HS.  The Symphonic Band will be performing on Wednesday for East.
  • Thursday, May 31 - WEST HS.  The Concert Band will be performing on Thursday for West.
  • Students should plan to park at the band lot (it's officially up to you, but that will be easier in the long run) and walking to the stadium.  Please be at the stadium by 6:40.  Commencement begins at 7:00.  The band will play the processional and students may be dismissed (leaving quietly if at all), but may choose to remain in their seats.
  • Students should wear business casual style clothing.  NO t-shirts, jeans, etc.  You should look nice.  Ties are not a requirement.
Other end-of-the-year items:
  • School instruments MUST be returned next week for check-in and inventory.  Students will be able to check out instruments for summer use after final exams.
  • Band lists for next year were posted on Google Classroom this week.  Unfortunately there were a few errors, which I think have been corrected (most cam from the clarinet section).  I've removed the posting from GC for now, but will double check again for accuracy and repost soon.  All three bands look great for next year. Balanced instrumentation, etc.  Numbers also look good in each ensemble, although there will never be enough tubas...  
  • COLOR GUARD auditions for 2018-19 will be Tuesday, June 5 in the HS band room.  Current members are expected to attend and learn the tryout routine and demonstrate proficiency.
  • DRUMLINE auditions for 2017-18 will take place after school on Friday, June 1.  Current members of the HS drumline who wish to move to a different instrument must attend this audition.  Audition materials were passed out in class a couple weeks ago.  
I think that takes care of everything, but I usually manage to think of one or two other items after I publish these...


Monday, May 14, 2018

Tulip Time Review/Remainder of the Year

It's raining as I write this today, but we somehow managed to stay completely dry for all the parades last week!  It was a very good week overall as far as the four performances were concerned; lots of compliments and greetings as we marched down the street.  Mr. Bhattarai was introduced to many new things on Wednesday, the most "shocking" being between Dutch costumes and the Holland HS band's wooden shoe routine for "Tiptoe Through the Tulips."  (Which, by the way, was officially pulled on Saturday by the Tulip Time office.  I was shocked to find out that the decades-old tradition of the band's routine was deemed to "take too long" and "causes a delay in the parade."  Nonsense.  If you hear anything in the community, please let people know that the new director had absolutely nothing to do with this decision.  That is a huge fear for anyone taking over a program: someone else makes a call, and you are stuck dealing with the problem.  Not a good scenario, and we need to make sure it doesn't happen at ZHS next year for any reason.)

Anyway, there is still plenty to do this school year!  People keep asking me what it's like to wind down to retirement, and so far the answer is "what winding down??"  Here's what is happening between now and the end of the school year:

THURSDAY, MAY 17 - Jazz Band final concert at Lokers Auditorium.  I had forgotten about the location, so it's a good thing I checked the calendar...  7:00 p.m. start time.

THURSDAY, MAY 24 - the Wind Ensemble will present their final concert at DeWitt Auditorium at 7:00 p.m.  Please join us for a fairly brief concert of British band music.  

MONDAY, MAY 28 - Memorial Day Parade - report time 8:30 a.m. at Cityside MS for the usual city parade route.  Wind Ensemble and Symphonic Band will cover the cemetery service following the parade.  Cathy Lugten has organized an open house for me following the parade, which will take place in the auditorium lobby beginning around 11 a.m.  Thanks to Cathy and those who are assisting - it's much appreciated!  Apparently there will be cake, so I will definitely be there!

Wednesday, May 30 and Thursday, May 31 - Commencement exercises.  More details to follow regarding these events.

That takes care of things for now.  Hope to see lots of people at the final two concerts of the year, and of course the best holiday parade in the state!


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Tulip Time 2018

Here are (hopefully) all the (hopefully) final details you should need for the Tulip Time performances to be successful and efficient.  Everything starts next week!

Combined rehearsal will happen tomorrow night (Wednesday, May 2) from 7 - 8:30 p.m. at the high school campus.  We will use Monday, May 7 as a rain date.

Tuesday, May 8 - "Dazzle" show at Central Wesleyan Church.  This is for jazz band only.  Rehearsal Tuesday morning at the church.  Meet in the band room at 7:15 so we can load the bus and leave by 7:45.  Show time Tuesday night is 8:00 p.m.  Specific details regarding report times will be given in class (because I don't know them yet).

PARADES on Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday:

We will be at school each day dressed and ready to go by 12:45.  Please allow yourselves plenty of time to arrive at school, find your uniforms, and get dressed.  Students may elect to stay after school on Wednesday and Thursday until the buses leave, but I would honestly prefer that they don't.  On Saturday the building will be open by noon for students to arrive and get dressed.

Lineup information can be found here:
 - Wednesday:
  - Thursday:
  - Saturday:


On Wednesday the band will be lining up on 8th Street by the post office, and Thursday we will be meeting in the general vicinity of Columbia Avenue and 9th/10th Streets for those, such as Dutch Dancers, who need to meet us at the start of the parade.  On Saturday we line up on the north side of 8th St. again, next to Pizza Hut.

  • In case of inclement weather, only the Thursday parade has an option for being rescheduled to Friday.  Wednesday and Saturday parades are held unless there is severe weather, in which case they are canceled without a make-up date (I don't recall this ever happening in the 30+ years of parades I've done...).

If YOU are driving YOUR child and YOU are present at the end of the parade, all you need to do is find me and check out your child.  If you are driving OTHER students, THOSE STUDENTS must have a permission slip on file with me stating that they may ride with you.  Students may also choose to meet family members back on the parade route in the audience.  I attached the electronic file to the email for this blog link, and it can also be found here -  

  • DUTCH DANCERS should not be considered part of the transportation stuff - I consider Dutch dancers to be "on their own" due to all of their other time and travel commitments, so they are responsible for getting themselves to and from the parades and dance venues on their own unless they tell me otherwise.
  • If in doubt, fill it out!  Better to have too much paperwork than not enough in this situation.
  • I prefer to have one sheet per parade day, but if you fill one out for all three days I will make do.

There are several folks who are indeed missing a parade in order to participate in an athletic event.  I have heard from MOST of you - please do not assume that because one person on your team is excused, that I know that you are on the same team.  If I have not heard from you regarding an athletic conflict, I assume there is no problem and that you will be marching.

As we have discussed in class, you are representing yourselves, your band, your school, your community, and in some cases the State of Michigan.  Remember that an interaction that you have with a tourist or community member may be the only one they have with Zeeland.  Make a good impression!  

  • Your uniform is to be completely ON or completely OFF after the parade.  No unzipped coats (take it off if you're too hot) or other variations of the uniform.  Hats and gloves may be removed without concern.
  • If you are walking back on the parade route to meet someone after the parade, make sure to walk behind the audience.
  • Plan to transport your instruments to the parades in their cases.  Uncased instruments on the buses invite damage and unnecessary temptation to play them, both of which would be bad.
  • ALL BAND MEMBERS need crew-length WHITE socks.  (<<I wish I could make that sentence flash and shoot lightning bolts and stuff...)
  • I strongly recommend that all students wear earplugs during the parades.
That should cover it, I believe.  If you have questions, please feel free to email me -

Monday, April 9, 2018

Retirement Update

As we search for my replacement, the last month has been a whirlwind of looking at resumes, screening, and interviewing candidates.  The search culminated the Monday before break, with the three final candidates conducting the Concert Band in some sight reading and rehearsal (and even a little Q&A with the kids).  

An outstanding team of educators and parents (and parent/educators) participated in the process of an initial screening round, interviewing six preliminary candidates, and then the final round of interviews mentioned above. Mr. DeKuiper, Mr. Voss, and Mrs. Knoth had one more interview right before break with the person the team chose.

Each of the final candidates brought something high quality to the podium.  They possess varying levels of experience in many ways - musically, educationally, etc.  ALL are highly-qualified and would fit into the ZPS Performing Arts team easily.

I am pleased and excited to announce that the new ZHS Director of Bands will be Mr. Pujan Bhattarai (rhymes with "Atari" - like the game system), most recently of Michigan State University and East Kentwood HS.

Here's the thing:  Mr. Bhattarai is a new teacher.  I know that one of the first things we talked about as a staff and administration, both with students and parents, is that "we aren't going to go out and hire some rookie" (I believe that is exactly how I put it, even).  Well, I can tell you that, after seeing this young man in action in front of my group, he is more than capable of handling this job.  Immediate connections with the students, a mature and commanding presence on the podium, and a level of technique and ideas far beyond his years.  I was very impressed, as were the committee members and the students; he was overwhelmingly the students' first choice on the anonymous survey we had them take.

I have every confidence that he will be an outstanding educator and will do an amazing job here.  He comes highly recommended from all who know him, including my son Nathan, who went to school with him at MSU - "yeah, dad, he's the real deal.  Definitely something special, and everyone here knows it."  Mr. Good and Mrs. Bier are also very excited about him, and are looking forward to adding him to the team.

Mr. Bhattarai will be making his presence known as much as possible for the rest of the year.  He is still under contract at East Kentwood, but they are very flexible and are excited that he has the opportunity to take over this program.  He will be at our concert this Sunday, which will give the parents and students a chance to meet him afterward.  

Following his appearance Sunday, our goal is to get him involved and acclimated to the program and how it operates before I end the year.  Maybe we will even be able to convince him to march in a parade or two with us!

Thank you so much for your support on this.  I know there will be some transition things, probably some growing pains, but I also know that this young man will be an outstanding educator one day, and I am so happy to have him take the reins from me and move the program forward.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Early Spring Updates

We are about four weeks away from spring break, which is hard enough to believe, but I am also counting down into the 50s for the number of days left in my teaching career!  So many memories over 31 years of teaching, but those will have to wait for another day...  I thought I would send a quick update of all of the things to expect over the next few weeks before and right after break.

MONDAY, March 12 - Chamber Music Night in the DeWitt lobby.  We will be performing a brief concert of chamber music as a preview for State Solo and Ensemble Festival, which happens on March 17.  We will start at 7:00 p.m. and the evening will include several solos and small ensembles who will be performing at State on Saturday.  Coffee and cookies will be served.  All are invited.

SATURDAY, March 17 - State S&E at Portage Northern HS.  Times are posted on Google Classroom so far; a hard copy of the schedule, maps, etc. will be handed out as soon as we receive the final info from PNHS.

SATURDAY, March 24 - The ZHS Jazz Ensemble Guest Artist Series Concert.  This is always a very popular concert in the year, and this year several guests will be joining the band on stage.  Chris Vadala, the saxophone player for the Chuck Mangione group back in the day, and Vince DiMartino, trumpet virtuoso, will both be back this year, along with Chris Janowiak on piano.  ZHS alum Jordan VanHemert has written a special arrangement for the band for this concert.  $10.00 all seats.  7:00 p.m. start time in DeWitt.

TUESDAY, March 27 - ZHS Percussion Ensemble spring concert.  See the percussion in all of their musical glory without the band in front of them.  7:00 p.m. in DeWitt, admission is free.  Several selections featuring dozens of instruments will be presented, including solos, small ensembles, and large ensembles.  

SUNDAY, APRIL 15 - ZHS Bands Spring Concert.  The Concert Band, Symphonic Band, and Wind Ensemble will present a concert featuring video game music at 2:00 p.m. in DeWitt Auditorium.  We will also take some time to recognize our graduating seniors at this performance.  (There will most likely be an after-school rehearsal with the percussion the week before this concert to ensure that it all comes together.  Details TBA.)

A quick update on retirement things:

Next Tuesday, March 13, we will be interviewing five potential replacements for me.  These are all highly-qualified individuals, with a wide range of teaching experience.  I am very confident that we will find a person who is the right fit from this pool of applicants.  Following Tuesday's interview, we will most likely bring a couple of finalists in for a second round of interviews, which will include some podium time in front of Concert Band and Wind Ensemble.  It may also include a student/parent representative on the interview team; more details will follow as needed.  

It's been a great 26 years here, and I have many great memories.  I am looking forward to the next chapter in my life!

Monday, February 19, 2018

February Concert Details

At last year's annual calendar meeting we thought about trying to get the HS concert bands to be able to perform at three concerts instead of the usual two, and things worked out basically OK for that.  "Basically" because the February 25 concert will be at Lokers Auditorium at Cityside instead of DeWitt due to scheduling issues.

This brings up a few logistics issues that I am hoping to work out by the 25th...  These are mostly audience capacity issues, since Lokers only holds about 450 people.  I think we will be OK with seating capacity as long as the band kids are actually not in the seats watching each other, though, so we are going to see what happens!

This concert will be for Concert and Symphonic bands only; Wind Ensemble will be doing a different performance venue at our elementary schools next week.

SYMPHONIC BAND should report to the stage at Lokers at 1:25 on Sunday afternoon.  We will do a brief warmup on stage and then move to the band room prior to the concert.

CONCERT BAND should be on stage at Lokers at 1:40 p.m.  We will warm up and tune on stage and be set for the concert at 2:00.

There are five percussionists performing with us this weekend; they know who they are and what time to be where they need to be.

The logistics are coming together - the only thing that needs to be worked out is transportation for a few shared school instruments.  We will work that out as the week goes on, and your children will let you know if you need to carry a tuba or something.

We look forward to seeing you Sunday afternoon!