The Music Man
Thursday, June 23, 2005 - Bangor Daily News
After teaching children music for more than 34 years, you would think SAD 48 band instructor Bruce Brown would be a bit jaded. That he might lose his patience with his students, might be in a hurry to leave when the last school bell rings.
But listen to what the 55-year-old veteran educator has to say about his job: "There is something about a magic moment when we all play so well together and after, we can't speak. No words are necessary. This isn't work. Oh no, it is pure joy. I do it simply because I love it."
"Still, music has never been the priority. The students have always been my first concern."
And listen to what his students say about him: "There is nothing bad you can say about Mr. Brown," said Kristen Seavey, 15, of Newport, who plays saxophone and flute. "He makes us feel valuable."
"He has taught me that I can do anything I want to," said Ann Leavitt, 17, of Palmyra, who plays trumpet and is seeking a career after high school in the arts. "His personality and influence will shine through my work for a long time."
For the past 31 years, Brown has made thousands of music students his priority in a small band room at Nokomis Regional High School, encircled by trophies and filled with scattered drums, marching costumes and music stands. He was recently singled out as one of the nation's 50 top band instructors by School Band and Orchestra Magazine. He was anonymously nominated for the award.
After a busy day working with the high school's freshman band, Brown took some time to discuss his teaching philosophy, which in reality is much more a life philosophy.
"I treat the students just the way I want to be treated, not like kids, as corny as that sounds," Brown said. "Life is hard. Anytime we can be good to each other, we should take it."
Some students, Brown notes, are just not tuned in to music. "But you need to have the right attitude and be there for them. As a result, we've had some people graduate from Nokomis that were not great music people, but were great people."
SAD 48 has consistently turned out some of the best high school musicians in the state.
"I've got the cream of the crop," Brown declared. "The kids are fantastic and the parental support is amazing."
Three veteran Nokomis teachers - Brown, Stan Buchanan and Jack Clifford - collectively bring more than 100 years of music teaching experience.
"It was Stan that came to my house and convinced my parents that I should be a music teacher," Brown recalled. He did fulfill that dream and taught at both Maine Central Institute and Madison High School before settling in at Nokomis.
But it was one day 41 years ago - Feb. 9, 1964, to be exact - that really put Brown on a musical path.
"I saw the Beatles perform on Ed Sullivan and that moment changed my life," he said. He is still heavily influenced by Herb Alpert and others from the 1960s. "Rock and roll music was so important growing up," he said. "I think it fascinated us because it drove our parents crazy."
To this day, Brown puts in at least two hours daily, practicing guitar and trumpet. He also founded the Sebasticook Valley Community Band and is part of a rock band, Loose Change.
But from Monday through Friday, his life revolves around the students. "I very rarely leave the band room and I'm not even aware of the school politics," he admitted. "If ignorance is bliss, I'm a very happy man."
Brown said his recent national recognition leaves him a bit embarrassed. "Teaching, working with the students, that should go unrewarded," he demurred. He would much rather pick up his trumpet and blow a tune with a roomful of musicians accompanying him. His musical gift speaks for him.
"Sometimes words get in the way and a student just needs a hand on the shoulder," he reflected. "And, of course, the music."
Sharon Kiley Mack can be reached at 487-3187 and firstname.lastname@example.org.