Ryan HS Band Students Return to Strickland MS, Help Foster Growth of Program
Naomi Stepheson didn’t always know that she wanted to be a band director.
In fact, Naomi wasn’t even sure how much band would eventually mean to her – until she joined the Strickland Middle School band over six years ago. But, in Naomi’s own words, it didn’t take her long to realize how much she loved it.
Now a junior at Ryan High School, Naomi recalls fondly just how quickly she developed an affinity for music, all while discovering her future career path.
“A week after the school year started in sixth grade, I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” Naomi said.
Naomi’s passion for band and her aspiration of one day teaching is ultimately what led her and longtime classmate Aaron Ketchersid back to their middle school alma mater last month. It all started with a call from Strickland Director of Bands Nachel Konemann to Ryan Director of Bands Mary Brown.
Mrs. Konemann wanted to help bridge the gap between middle school and high school band, and she wanted some of her former students to return, help teach and foster relationships. What transpired was Naomi and Aaron, along with several other Ryan Raider band members, running “sectionals” at Strickland.
“Middle schoolers get very intimidated at the idea of joining the high school marching band,” Mrs. Konemann said. “I started reaching out to the Ryan band directors asking if they could send some kids down. Aaron and Naomi were in my first beginner class here. They were my first babies. It was so cool to see them come back and to be teaching in this space.”
Sectionals, which are practice sessions divided by instrument, help students gain one-on-one feedback with their particular part. Since Naomi and Aaron are both trumpet players, they were able to work with middle school trumpet players on the three pieces Strickland is performing for UIL in March.
Naomi and Aaron had even played one of the works, Contempo, when they were in eighth grade. That experience paid dividends, as over the next hour, the pair worked with Strickland students while bonding with their eventual classmates.
“I really like teaching people and helping out the band program,” Aaron said. “It was rewarding. It was also nice to get a look at the future of the program to see what is coming up. There were a lot of really good players there for their age.”
Like Naomi, Aaron has also discovered something crucial over his last six years in the Ryan band program. While he hasn’t necessarily found his career path, Aaron has found his self-described home at school.
“Band has meant everything to me throughout high school,” Aaron said. “Before coming up [to Ryan], I really didn’t have a place, I felt like. But coming into the Ryan band, I found a place. It’s family.”
That family environment is what Mrs. Brown hopes will lead to an increase in participation across the program.
“Kids recruit kids,” Mrs. Brown said. “I see them all the time. I see the kids at Strickland and Myers, but I’m the old person. The kids are always the ones to recruit them. And I think our kids enjoy [teaching sectionals] because they see it as an opportunity to teach somebody else and to mentor. Both [Aaron and Naomi] really like to be mentors to younger kids.”
For Mrs. Konemann, the goal remains to keep students involved in music and fine arts any way possible. There are currently 130 members in the Ryan band, and she, like Mrs. Brown, wants to see those numbers continue to climb as her students move on to high school.
“I want it to be where our kids automatically know they will be up in the Ryan band,” Mrs. Konemann said. “I want that to be the expectation. If you join the Strickland band, you become a part of the Ryan band.”
Six years later, it is that same passion from Mrs. Konemann that has left a lasting impression on Naomi. She may be far removed from holding her trumpet for the first time in Mrs. Konemann’s beginning class, but Naomi still remembers how much she meant to her as a sixth grader.
And now, as a result, Naomi has not only found her calling – she has also found a family she knows will always be there for her.
“It is like 130 family members,” Naomi said. “No matter what you do, even if you are having a bad day, you see your friends, and if they notice you aren’t having a good day, they’ll welcome you. Whenever I was in middle school, Mrs. Konemann was my best friend. She’s the reason why I want to be a band director.”