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More Than a Marching Band: How Music Educator Adam Bassak Instills a Love of Music, Performance

Tuesday, November 1, 2022
baldwin woodville band
The Baldwin-Woodville Marching Band poses outside of the Wisconsin State Capitol ahead of the 2022 State of Education Address.

The State of Education Address by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction always includes a performance by a school music ensemble, this year by the high school marching band from the small northern communities of Baldwin and Woodville. The band wowed all in attendance with their fall show, “Kaleidoscope.” The students were obviously keyed up and well-rehearsed, bringing their wonderful performance to the capitol rotunda.

What people may not realize, however, is the intricate planning and preparation needed to execute such an important performance. First of all, the ensemble is not allowed to perform or warm-up in the capitol prior to the performance. When you consider that the rotunda, with all of its hard and complex surfaces, creates an echo lasting at least five seconds, you understand the unique challenge. How does an ensemble perform so well under these circumstances? It begins with the skills and experience of one teacher - Adam Bassak.

After the band’s amazing performance, I asked Mr. Bassak if I could call him during his 3-hour bus ride home and ask him a few questions. My goal was to “pull the curtain back” on the amazing teaching that is taking place each day in Wisconsin schools while celebrating a teacher who continues to go above and beyond for his students. The paragraphs that follow contain some of the things Mr. Bassak and I discussed that afternoon.

Chris: Tell us about your background, and how you came to Baldwin-Woodville.

Adam: I grew up in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, and attended the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire for my undergraduate degree in music education. During that time I was on staff with the marching band at Chippewa Falls High School. My first job was with the Royall School District teaching 5-12 grade band. After three years, I applied for a teaching job at Baldwin-Woodville High School, and I’m in my 17th year there. During that time, I earned my Masters in Educational Leadership degree through Silver Lake University, as well as taking continuing education credits at different universities. My teaching responsibilities include instructing the Symphonic Band, Marching Band, Pep Band, Winter Drumline, Winter Winds, and chamber groups at Baldwin-Woodville, as well as a Technical Theater class.

Our marching band has finished in the top three bands at state each year, including seven state championships. Our Winter Drumline competes in the Minnesota Percussion Association Circuit and is a two-time Scholastic Regional A Champion, as well as a three-time WGI Percussion World Championship participant. In partnership with Forward Performing Arts and the Madison Scouts, I helped create and direct the first WGI (Winter Guard International) Winds group in Wisconsin. The group was an Independent A Champion and finished fourth at WGI Wind World Championships.

Chris: Why did you decide to go into teaching?

Adam: When I was a freshman, I thought about quitting band. Middle school saxophone just wasn’t that interesting to me. My mom got me into some private lessons and then asked me to stick it out for one more year so I could have Mr. Greenhalgh. I came home after the first or second day of band camp my sophomore year and my mom said, “How are things going in band?” I said, “Oh, good. I think I want to be a band director!” I was hooked.

Chris: Doug Greenhalgh was the music educator who perished in a 2005 bus accident, along with his wife (Therese), granddaughter (Morgan), the bus driver (Paul Rasmus), and student teacher (Brandon Atherton) following the state marching band competition in 2005.

Adam: Yes. It was a horrific event.

Chris: What did Doug Greenhalgh mean to you?

Adam: After the bus accident, I would drive back and forth from my job at Royall to Chippewa Falls to help out. I have a picture hanging at the top of my stairs that the Chippewa Falls School District gave to me. The picture has a quote that Doug said to his band that night at the state championships. He said, “Kids, no matter what else happens tonight, I want you to always remember this moment. You will have this moment for the rest of your lives.” I look at this picture and quote every day before I go to school to remind myself why I teach. My goal is to create those moments with kids every day.

Chris: What does this performance at the State of Education Address mean to you and your students?

Adam: It is a great opportunity to contribute to an important event in education. It was great for the students to experience everything from Dr. Underly’s address, to the poet, to the speech by one of the Wisconsin Teachers of the Year. And just the opportunity to perform in a venue like the capitol. You just don’t get many opportunities to perform in a space with that amount of resonance, and from a musicality standpoint in a space where you sound like that as a group. Plus the history of it all. You are at the state capitol representing your own community and music across the state while performing for so many influential people. It was a great experience for the kids.

Chris: What was the challenge to playing in the rotunda?

Adam: We put mat underneath the percussion to help soak up the sound a bit and had the students play percussionists with different implements. In that space, however, it is still hard for the students to really hear each other from one side to the other. I was standing on one side of the ensemble conducting so that the kids in the back could see the pulse, but even I couldn’t hear the trumpets on the other side of the ensemble. With the delay and echo you really had to watch the drum major to make it work. The color guard also had to figure out transitions and how to perform in a limited space on a different level from us. I truly don’t know how they did it, they are a fantastic group of performers.

Chris: What would you say to music educators who are new to their positions this year?

Adam: No matter how a rehearsal or performance goes, always remember what you are creating with kids. You will have days where you may have a bad rehearsal or something will not work out as you expected it to. In the end, it is the process that you get to go through with kids, and spending that time with them in the hope that you instill a lifelong appreciation of music.

Chris: What is the best part of your job?

Adam: I perform and play music on a daily basis with great kids. I get to do what I love and to teach it. To me, watching a student or group grow over time is probably the most rewarding thing, but knowing that they did it as an ensemble and are proud of their accomplishments completes everything. Music is so powerful on every level.

Chris: Is there anyone that you would like to thank or lift up?

Adam: I wouldn’t be a band director if not for my mentor and band director, Doug Greenhalgh. His understanding, passion, personality are evident in everything I do as a music educator. My parents, who were both very supportive. In fact, my mom was at every performance of mine both as a teacher and a student before she passed away. Of course, I want to thank my family, staff members, parents, and the amazing network of teachers and administrators around me who support me, teach me new things, and make me a better person.

This item was submitted by Chris Gleason, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Arts and Creativity Consultant.