Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sean's H.S. Band Teacher is retiring

Paul Gates, who has been teaching band at Park High School for 20 years, will retire at the end of this school year.The lure of big trout brought music teacher Paul Gates to Park High School. Now, after 20 years of helping students swim through musical scores, he is retiring in May to do what brought him here ... fly fish.In the summer of 1988, Gates, now 52, and his wife, Pat Gates, were vacationing in the Livingston area fly fishing. At the time, both played in the Kansas City Symphony, but they always thought Livingston would be a great place to live, maybe after they retired.It just so happened that the Livingston School District was looking for two music teachers and, coincidentally, Gates had a copy of his resume with him.“I thought, ‘Why in the world would these people want the jobs?’ because they were way overqualified,’” said vocal music teacher Nancy Curtis, who was on the hiring committee.Curtis later found out why: The Gateses really like to to fish.Since then, the Gates and Curtis have built one of the best music programs in the state.To many of his students, Paul Gates has become more than just their music teacher.“We’ve known him half our lives,” said Park High Junior Ethan Perry as a group of students gathered to discuss Gates’ influence, Friday. “He’s kind of like a father and definitely a friend.”“After high school, he’s one guy I would be proud to stop to talk to,” said senior Dustin Schwarz.Unlike other teachers, Gates instructs band students beginning in the fifth grade all the way through their senior year at Park High.Curtis said Gates has very high standards and always goes about influencing young musicians in a positive way.“He treats us with respect,” Schwarz said. “Not like little kids.”“Although he acts like a little kid,” senior Chad Becker laughed.Indeed, laughter can often be heard coming from Gates’ students during band practice.“We have so much fun, but we also play serious,” Becker said.Most of the students agreed that, after having played with other bands around the state, they are definitely one of the best.On Thursday, Gates led his second period class through renditions of “Frankenstein” and “Crazy Train” for pep band.“I’m looking for a bigger sound,” Gates told his musical protégés.They played “Frankenstein,” but something didn’t sound quite right to Gates. He waved his baton and stopped the music.“I’m in slow motion,” Gates said. “I’m like a bird trying to fly.”He gave a few more words of instruction, and they started again.This time they played through the trouble spot and Gates nodded with approval.Gates often uses analogies to teach music.One of them is that learning a piece of music is like polishing a rock: When you start, it’s rough and raw, and you shape it into something beautiful.It’s no surprise that another of Gates’ passions is lapidary — finding and shaping rocks, like agates, into jewelry.“He’s so talented, he can explain things five different ways,” said senior Erika Blough.His students say that while he’s great with a large group of musicians, he also gives superb one-on-one advice and really gets to know his students.Gates composes and sings an individualized happy birthday song for each of his students and has given many of them nicknames.“He’s a great teacher, but his strength is his compassion for our group of kids,” said Park Vice Principal Bob Stevenson. “He’s great at making those personal connections. He’s going to be tough to replace.”Gates, however, is self-effacing and said it’s hard to measure success when it comes to music.But plaques in the band room give perspective on his success. The year Gates arrived at Park High, only one student was selected for the all-state band. That number swelled every year, topping 14 in 2005 — a number unheard of in Class A, Curtis said.What might be even more unique is the relationship Gates has with the choir and athletic programs at the high school.In many schools, band and choir compete for students, and often the directors don’t get along. But at Park High, the programs support each other, and Curtis and Gates encourage students to be in both choir and band.What’s more, 70 percent of Gates’ students are in athletics.With students, teachers, school administration and parents heaping accolades on Gates, one thing is sure: Next year’s band teacher is going to have huge shoes to fill.

1 comment:

Kira Joy said...

Retirement...that is a word that is too many years away for me to think about. I get so jealous when I hear it.