Middle Level State Honors Project: Spotlight Interview With Jim Scheuer
By Jeff Gretzinger, WSMA Program Director
The WSMA Middle Level State Honors Project committee will honor Jim Scheuer, band director for the Owen-Withee School District, after having served on the committee the past seven years and three additional years as a staff member. In those 10 years, his personal involvement and contribution to the success of the project has been immense, including serving as percussion coach for the band, serving as band coordinator and serving on the committee in a chair position the past four years. A successful music arranger, he wrote and published the current percussion audition etudes, the audition sight-reading materials, rewrote the audition scale material for all voices and instruments, collaborated with MakeMusic Corporation in developing the SmartMusic audition application, has donated hundreds of hours for the auditions across the state and has prepared numerous students from his district for the Middle Level State Honors experience.
During the July 2011 staff retreat, WSMA Program Director Jeff Gretzinger took the opportunity to sit down with Jim Scheuer to reflect on the past 10 years.
Jeff: How did you first become involved in the Middle Level State Honors Project?
Jim: I had been on the high school honors staff as a percussion coach for the band in 1991–1992 and for the orchestra in 1999–2000. When I completed my term with the orchestra, I mentioned to Linda Peterson that I thought I would really enjoy working with Middle Level State Honors, because that had always been my favorite level to teach. She recommended me to Jan Tweed, and a year later Jan invited me to be percussion section coach for the Middle Level State Honors Band. I’ve been here ever since!
Jeff: You grew up and attended school in Mishicot. You have often mentioned how your high school band director was a huge influence on you. Did he ever encourage you or your classmates to audition for the Honors project while in school?
Jim: Glenn Nelson’s influence extends throughout the state – I’ve lost count of how many of us, his former students, are teaching music in Wisconsin, but it’s a significant number, and we all admire him and appreciate what he did for us. Several of my high school friends, as well as my younger sister, were in State Honors in high school. I auditioned, but was not accepted. My failure was a valuable lesson in the importance of preparation, because I was NOT prepared for that audition.
Jeff: What motivates you to dedicate so much of your time and talents to the Middle Level State Honors Project?
Jim: The same thing that motivates me every day as a teacher – the students. I think that the State Honors Music Project, both Middle Level and High School, is probably the best and highest-level gifted and talented educational opportunity that exists in Wisconsin, and possibly well beyond just Wisconsin. I see tremendous value for students in every aspect of the honors experience – the audition preparation, the audition experience itself, and of course actually participating as a member of an honors ensemble. My motivation is to ensure that every step of that process is the most valuable educational opportunity it can be for the students.
Jeff: Over the past 10 years, many of your students have represented your school. What qualities do they bring back with them following the experience?
Jim: I assume you’re referring to students who have actually been in an honors ensemble, but I want to extend my answer beyond just them. As I mentioned previously, I see every stage of the process as a valuable educational opportunity. I encourage every student who even has any chance to be an honors student to attempt an audition because of what they get out of the audition process. My students learn a great deal and improve tremendously as musicians (and as young ladies and men) just from the challenge of preparing the audition. They get the same value from the audition itself – the nerve-wracking challenge of putting yourself “on the spot” for a one-time shot at success builds musicianship and builds character. Even if they aren’t accepted, they gain a great deal from the audition process. Of course, those who do qualify for an honors ensemble gain even more. Again, it’s mostly about the challenge of working at a very high level. One of the things my students learn when they are in an honors group is that there are a lot more kids out there like them – talented, ambitious and hard-working and with a love for music. It’s often the first time they find themselves in a situation where they are not one of the very top musicians in the ensemble. They return from the experience not just as even better musicians, but as better leaders who are able to help me push my bands to even higher levels of achievement.
Additionally, at our school we give recognition to all students who audition and to those who are named as alternates, and even more recognition for those who are selected for honors groups. This recognition helps them gain a further sense of pride in their accomplishments, and also encourages others to audition in the future, which is really good for the band and choir programs in our school.
Jeff: Personally, you made numerous contacts during your tenure, from working with thousands of middle school students, working with nationally recognized conductors, teaming with SmartMusic for the audition materials and working with some of the finest teachers across the state. Have there been any particular contacts or incidents that stand out in your mind?
Jim: There have been so many. I think what stands out the most is still my first honors experience with the high school honors band back in 1991. It probably stands out mainly because it was my first one, and I was so blown away by the quality of the people I found myself working with on the staff, but I gained so much professionally just from watching James Croft work with the band that it motivated me to go back to Owen-Withee and push my bands to a much higher level. And I learned to love Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral that year! I also got to watch Jack Pingel do his dance to Spike Jones’ Hawaiian War Chant on the talent show. Croft and Pingel were both legends in my mind, and I could hardly believe I was even being allowed to associate with them.
I also felt particularly proud to work with other legendary music teachers like Jan Tweed and Gerry Gleason when I first got involved with Middle Level Honors. But really, I’ve just felt honored and somewhat humbled to have worked with so many outstanding teachers who volunteer their time to the honors project. It’s hard not to be impressed with the number of outstanding, dedicated music teachers we have here in Wisconsin.
Jeff: Name your most memorable or proudest moment during your time on the staff/committee?
Jim: It’s hard to narrow it down to just one. Really, every year that I have been involved, the honors concert is the proudest moment, just because it’s the culmination of all the preparation. To quote from an old TV show, “I love it when a plan comes together!” The other proudest moments have simply been seeing my own students participate in honors groups.
Jeff: Any advice or words of wisdom?
Jim: I have gotten a great deal professionally from my involvement with the honors project. Serving as a section coach was the best “professional development” I did in my entire career. What I got out of it far exceeds anything I have been able to get from workshops and course work. It was hands-on practical experience working with kids at a very high level, as well as observing master teachers as guest conductors. I can’t even begin to explain how much I learned from the other coaches and coordinators and conductors. Working with those outstanding music educators motivated me to push my own students to even higher levels of achievement.
Jeff: If you could turn back time and say, “yes” again, would you?
Jim: Without hesitation. I can’t imagine why anyone would turn down this opportunity. I know that I’m a much better teacher and leader because of the experience, and I hope that in some small ways I have helped improve the honors project as well.