Music Man Hits High Notes With Students
ALMA – A music man is about to take center stage as the Silver Knights’ band director and music teacher, but not before making his mark in Charleston with his students.
“Band directing was a goal of mine and something I wanted to do when I was in college,” said Matt Jennings, a music teacher at A.I. Boreman Elementary. “I’m looking forward to doing something I’ve always wanted to do. And this allows me to teach not only students that I’ve had before, but new students.”
Jennings will replace TCHS Band Director and music teacher Wayne Smith, who will be retiring at the end of the academic year.
Smith called Jennings one of the best music educators in West Virginia.
“His work at A.I. Boreman is second to none,” he said. “His elementary chorus and percussion ensemble are the best in the state as proven by their performances at the state convention for the past several years.”
But before Jennings’ tenure ends at Boreman Elementary, his students will provide an accolade to Tyler County by performing on Friday at the state conference for the West Virginia Music Educators Association.
Fourth and fifth students from Boreman Elementary, along with approximately 10 other bands, choirs and orchestras from around the state will perform concerts during this annual WVMEA conference.
Boreman Elementary’s choir and percussion ensemble group has been busy practicing these past few months.
“I’m very excited,” said Emily Ebert, a fifth-grader. “I’ve never been to anything like this before.”
This honor is especially unique as Boreman will be the only elementary honors ensemble. The rest of the groups will be comprised of middle school and high school students. Although Boreman students have been state honors finalists for solo and ensemble in the past, they have never been named an honors ensemble for the conference, earning them the distinct privilege of performing a full concert. The honors ensembles for the WVMEA state conference are considered to be among the finest in West Virginia. To be considered for this honor, the Boreman students had to submit recordings of three pieces of music in contrasting styles. In the category that they will represent “non-traditional ensemble” (musical groups other than bands, choirs, and orchestras), they tied for the highest score of all submissions, score 94 out of 100 possible points.
Ebert said her favorite musical composition to perform is “Orange Juice.”
“I like that the best because I have a really cool drum part,” she said.
Hannah Lemasters, a fifth grade student, offered high praise of Jennings’ skills as a teacher.
“He is the best because he teaches my favorite subject – music,” she said. “He is very nice and you can understand anything that he teaches.”
Peyton Hayes, a fifth-grade student, said he loves music, so he can’t wait to perform.
“Music has really been my favorite subject all throughout my life,” he said. “I’d rather play music than video games. I listen to music a lot. I’d like to be a music teacher someday like Mr. Jennings.”
Jennings, 32, began his career with Tyler Schools as a substitute teacher in 2006 and then he was hired full-time in the fall of 2007.
Before Jennings graduated in 2006 from WVU, he did his student-teaching under the supervision of Smith, who led legions of marching bands for decades.
“It was a fantastic experience as I knew it would be,” Jennings said of his time student-teaching under Smith. “He had a reputation statewide and always has. I knew that it was a fantastic program. And I always wanted to teach in a rural location. I knew that Tyler County had one of the best programs that you could find – band and choir – in a rural location. I knew that was where I wanted to teach. I wanted to see how they did it.”
Much like trophy cases for hallowed basketball or football programs, several large band competition trophies stand guard around the walls around Smith’s classroom. The Silver Knights under Smith’s leadership have won awards time and again at the state level against larger schools that field armies of students marching to the beat.
“I think the Silver Knights’ band program is lucky to get an educator of the quality of Mr. Jennings,” Smith said.
Jennings said he knows he has some big shoes to fill.
“I’m cautiously optimistic and I know it is going to be a really big challenge, but I guess I’m looking forward to a new set of challenges and being able to use a different skill set,” he said.
Smith played trombone then as a young lad and now as a master musician. Jennings plays the French horn and sang in the choir at WVU. He’s the organist at Middlebourne United Methodist. In recent years, Jennings has worked with some TCHS students in the brass section of the marching band, so he is well acquainted with the Silver Knights’s style.
“The music selections and most everything else is going to be same style of music that the band has been used to playing,” Jennings said. “That’s not just because I want to keep things the same, that’s kind of style that I’m used to and that I like and appreciate. It’ what the kids are used to, it’s what they enjoy and it’s what the community wants.”
Continuity is the key note for this transition.
“There’s not going to be many changes to the band,” Jennings said. “We’re still going to competitions and participate in the Oil and Gas Festival. I told the kids the other day, although no two people are the same, Mr. Smith and I have a lot of the same ideas in regards to leadership aspects in music education. I think because we are alike in those ways, it’s going to be a good transition for the kids.”
Jennings said he loves teaching.
“What I like best about teaching is seeing the joy that music brings me come out in a student,” he said. “Seeing the kids have the same kind of excitement, passion and joy for music that I do and knowing that I played a part in that in bringing that joy out of them. And I like giving students the opportunity to use talents that maybe they realize they didn’t have unless they’ve been given the opportunity. Now that I’ve been in Tyler schools for awhile, it is neat to see students who are in the band and choir and seeing the accomplishments they have made over the long term.”