As the 2017 fall semester wound down at Highland Park High School, band director Reagan Brumley wandered the streets of Tokyo.
Months earlier, principal Walter Kelly had approached him with an idea: A privately-funded, mini-sabbatical program would allow the head music teachers to work with professionals in their field.
(ABOVE: Highland Park High band director Reagan Brumley visits Japan. Courtesy photo)
“I wanted to find somebody I look up to, who is a master of my craft conducting-wise,” Brumley said. He contacted Jerry Junkin, conductor of the Dallas Wind Symphony, asking to study with him monthly.
“I thought he was going to say no,” Brumley said. “But to my shock, within about an hour, I had a reply from him.”
Junkin, however, had more ambitious plans than once-a-month lessons. He invited Brumley to observe him working in Japan with the Senzoku Gakuen College of Music Wind Symphony in Tokyo.
All the high school had to do was fund the airfare and accommodations.
“It’s the equivalent of the basketball coach hanging out with LeBron James.” -Reagan Brumley
“It’s the equivalent of the basketball coach hanging out with LeBron James,” Brumley said. “I saw the guy who was the very best in my field working every day for a week.”
As Junkin conducted, Brumley scribbled notes at a conference table in the rear of the classroom, waiting for the evening when he could ask questions during private teaching sessions.
“The biggest takeaway from him was his knowledge of the most minute details of every piece he conducted,” Brumley said.
Choir director Natalie Walker embarked on her sabbatical with mentor Doug Wright, a Pulitzer Prize winner and Highland Park alumnus, who was working on a new theatre project in La Jolla, California. When Wright visited Highland Park, Walker, who helped direct the school’s musicals, mentioned the grant.
“I talked to Doug and asked if I could be a fly on the wall, and if La Jolla Playhouse would allow me to get involved or assist in any way,” Walker said.
Wright agreed, administration greenlit the plan, and Walker traveled to California in the spring.
“The brain power in that room was incredible,” Walker said. Observing Doug Wright’s team allowed her to discover nuances of the characters in Highland Park’s own theatre productions, she said.
The sabbatical program is funded by the Highland Park Education Foundation and La Fiesta de Las Seis Banderas, which are providing three $10,000 grants. Orchestra director Tara Cesario hasn’t scheduled her trip yet.
“The impetus for the funding was an effort to help retain our talented teachers,” foundation executive director Jan Peterson explained. “Tools and experiences of this kind are what keep our teachers motivated and excited about coming to Highland Park.”
Brumley, drawing on his lessons from Japan, continues to fine-tune his vision for Highland Park’s band. “I’m doing better work for the students because of what I learned,” he said.
Spencer Allan is a senior at Highland Park High School.