Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Education

Pasco school band directors feel the fervor

Just two days after he interviewed for the job and a few days before the start of the school year, Ben Walukonis scrambled for a place to live while his new students worked their way through band camp without him. That's how fast it happened for Walukonis, 23. who quickly went from playing French horn at Michigan State University to band director at Wesley Chapel High.

A somewhat unusual immersion for the Michigan native.

"I'm used to snow days, but not hurricane days," Walukonis said of the Florida weather that has kept many marching bands off the field in recent weeks.

He's learned right off the bat about the importance of having a supportive staff.

"They've been great," Walukonis said, noting that while he was getting settled, Tyler Montieth, the band's visual director, was making steady progress with the halftime show.

Now, a few weeks in, Walukonis has garnered a reputation as a spirited director — particularly when his kids get it right during marching practice.

"He's very charismatic," said alto sax player, Joseph Cuozzo, 17, after the director applauded a run-through of the show.

"I love the band!" the director said, dropping to the ground to do 10 push-ups.

"I have a lot of energy. I like doing things with a purpose. I like the kids feeling pumped up, energized. I want them to perform with intensity and excitement at all times, even in rehearsal. I want this to be a good experience for them."

• • •

Walukonis may be new to the game, but he's in good company.

Jennifer Dusek came from Miami to take the lead at Ridgewood High in New Port Richey. She is a 2012 graduate of Florida State University and her primary instrument is clarinet.

"It's going well," Dusek said. "I've had a handful of kids that quit the band come back. They're all good kids, dedicated kids and all I'm trying to do is make them better and increase the program.w"

Fwivay High band director Sarah Ramey, a clarinet player and former middle school director from Lexington, Ky., logged her first official day on Aug. 24. She replaces Brian Schmidt, who is now band director at R.B. Stewart Middle School in Zephyrhills.

So how's it going?

"Boy, it's going!" Ramey said, with a laugh. "It's always crazy at the beginning of the year, and there's a lot of stuff going on. It's crazy but the kids are really doing a great job. I'm looking forward to this year. I'm really excited."

 
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