In celebration of Music for All’s 40th Anniversary in 2015, we are featuring profiles of music educators who have made a difference in Music for All and in band and orchestra education. In this post we feature a clinician, show designer and highly regarded music educator who was recognized by NAfME as the 2015 National Band Director of the Year. 

40 for 40 Kevin Ford

Kevin Ford is the founder and Director of the Leadership Conservatory for the Arts at Tarpon Springs High School. His responsibilities include directing the Wind Ensemble, Marching Band, Solo and Ensemble Coach, supervising all Conservatory performance ensembles, and developing the curriculum for the Conservatory Student Leadership Courses. In addition to his duties at Tarpon Springs, Ford is a clinician, guest speaker, and adjucticator across the nation. He’s also been a nationally recognized accomplished show designer for the past 25 years. He was selected as the 2015 National Association for Music Education (NAfME) National Band Director of the Year. 

How long have you been teaching?
I am starting my 22nd year of public school teaching. I’ve been blessed that my entire professional teaching career has been at Tarpon Springs High School.

Where did you go to college? What degrees did you earn?
I attended the University of Florida and earned a Bachelors of Arts degree. 

What is one thing you’d say to a new band director who asks you “what is the one thing you wish someone had told you just starting out?”
I believe the first place to start is to define “yourself” as a leader. Before embarking on this journey, I think it is crucial that you know exactly who you are, what you stand for, and how to measure success. This will provide you with the leadership ability to be consistent, effective, and proactive. I believe your music education program will be a testament of your heart, soul and efforts. Additionally, how the members operate will be a direct refection on your character, your work ethic, and what you represent as a music educator. It is important through your actions that you consistently display what you “value” as a professional.

Your approach to people, your demeanor on the podium, at the rehearsal field, your work ethic, your efforts to help others, your receptiveness to constructive criticism, your enthusiasm – yes, all these things will become a part of everyone in your organization. 

Secondly, I believe it is important that you are able to articulate your “purpose” for the importance of your curriculum and organization. Through articulating your purpose you will be providing everyone with exactly why your music education curriculum exists. You will also be providing the significant educational objectives for everyone involved in the process. As an outcome you will experience more meaningful and efficient results.

Through my experience, I have observed too often, directors who become frustrated. Wrongfully, they assume that everyone involved already understands or should appreciate what music education, the value of performance opportunities, and a well-rounded education that includes music can do for a student, school, and community. I would say to please remember, nearly everyone involved in the learning process will not have the same understanding, appreciation, or experience as you do. This includes students, parents, and especially administrators. It is always worth taking the time to efficiently explain not only the purpose, but also your desired results from a certain exercise, activity, or event. We try our best at Tarpon Springs to be student driven and not event driven. We also do our best to value the process over the achievement. We focus on how the process can directly help our students in all aspects of their lives. 

Thirdly, I believe it is critical that from the beginning, as a leader that you define your organization’s values. To lead your organization with character and integrity, you must set an example. You’re the leader, your organization looks to you. To begin, you must know your own values as well as your organization’s values. 

I think it’s important to remember, “it’s what you DO, not what you SAY, that demonstrates to your organization what YOU care about.” By getting your organization interested in ethical conduct, you will be able to communicate how important these values are to both you and your organization. This will allow you to set the tone and create the right environment for your students and your organization. 

I believe these three ideals have been essential in the development of our organization and the consideration of these concepts could help others in their quest to build an organization that they can be proud of and where students will have the opportunity to excel both artistically and as human beings. Build a culture of excellence, establish expectations, and inspire a culture of achievement. Be ready to work hard…really hard. Have a vision and work relentlessly towards providing that experience for your students every day. Make no excuses and focus on the solutions. Be patient and always remember to try to maintain balance. Most importantly, always put your family first! 

Tell us about your participation with Music for All and Bands of America
The Tarpon Springs band program began its participation in 1996 where we attended our first BOA Atlanta Regional. At that time, it was the first time in the school’s 100 year history that the band program had ever traveled out of state. We felt this was not only a benefit for our students as a performance opportunity, but we also wanted to expose them to the best of the best. We rehearsed at Lassiter High School and I remember meeting Alfred Watkins for the first time who is one of my professional idols. I think at that time we may have had only about 60 members total in the marching band. When I saw him walking out to our rehearsal I still remember I got really nervous, which is very unusual for me. After he watched the band rehearse, I remember him complimenting them and he could not have been more kind and supportive. Through Bands of America it has allowed me the opportunity to network and learn from so many outstanding educators over the years. 

Bands of America used to host a band booster workshop for parents where Dr. Tim spoke regarding strategies about becoming a better organization and why music education is so important in the lives of our young people. This was very inspiring to our booster organization and really helped to accelerate our improvement as an organization. Since the time we have participated in BOA events we have always participated in the leadership workshops. The information shared with us at these workshops have helped shape our organization to where we are at today. 

Additionally, we have participated in the National Concert Band Festival and I have had the privilege to participate on the Bands of America Advisory board with many directors that I hold in the highest regards. My wife Jeannine and I have served as instructors of the BOA Honor Band in the Rose Parade on two occasions. 

What are some of the highlights and memorable moments from your experiences related to Music for All/Bands of America?
Beginning with our first Atlanta performance where we performed at the Regional for the first time; all of the Dr. Tim leadership workshops that our students have participated in – from the first leadership workshop our students attended at their first Grand Nationals in 1997 through to today, our students always leave those sessions’ better people, inspired, with a renewed sense of purpose. 

In 1997, we attended our first Grand Nationals in the old RCA Dome. It was our first experience at that level. Our students were in awe and inspired after seeing some of the incredible performances of the bands present that year. As a bonus, it was snowing that year and it was the first time most our students had ever seen snow. We did a Western theme show and had built a small western town for our production. I remember when we pushed those props into the Dome, they still had snow on them and created a magical authenticity to our performance. 

In 2001, it was the first time our wind ensemble performed at the National Concert Band Festival. It was an exciting moment for our students and an amazing learning opportunity for me as an educator and our students to receive such great commentary by the incredible clinicians that year. 

Participating on the BOA Advisory Board with many of my colleagues who I look up to and admire. It was a terrific opportunity to help support the efforts and growth of Music for All and for me to listen and learn from so many outstanding educators and people. 

Every BOA standing ovation that our students have received over the years. Those are special moments and I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to share those moments with all the amazing students who we have had the privilege to teach over the years. 

In 2005, being part of the inaugural BOA Rose Bowl Honor Band and having the honor to teach it with my wife Jeannine who, by the way, was pregnant with our youngest daughter Brooklyn. 2014 Grand Nationals and being selected as the Grand National Champion was obviously a special moment for our students and tremendous honor. It had an extra special significance for my family because it was the first time our oldest daughter Madison was actually marching in the Tarpon Band at a Bands of America Grand Nationals. 

What would you like to see Music for All focus on or accomplish in the next 40 years?
We know that through participation of the performing arts it’s one of the greatest life changing gifts you can give a child. It can literally change and transforms lives. I’ve had the honor to witness it. Music for All has been an amazing partner for our program and has literally provided many life-changing opportunities and moments for our students. I hope that everyone who has ever participated in a Music for All event will continue 40 years from now to support MFA’s mission and events. The individuals who work for MFA are extraordinary people and I hope the organization will continue to attract and retain such high character and caliber people as the organization continues to grow in the future. 40 years from now, I would like to see MFA expand its outreach to all facets for the performing arts and continue to provide the premier events that provide opportunities for our young people to stretch, grow, and become the best they can be.