- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2003

"Next person who moves is going to do push-ups," Wesley Hoover warns in a soft, stern voice to a group of solemn-faced seventh-graders being instructed in band protocol during a morning music lesson at Shaw Junior High School in the District.
Following his instructions, the class stands straight and as still as statues.
"You understand that to be in the marching band you have to be in top physical shape," cautions the tall, muscular man whose formal title at the school is director of bands. "You've got to stop the potato chips and sodas, for one thing," he tells them.
"Whatever you want your maturity to be, the perception has to be 10 times more. You've got to put your level up there. Your level of expectation and mine are two different things," he says just before giving the cue for dismissal.
The next class eighth-graders this time enters as quietly as the previous one leaves.
If this scene is reminiscent of actor Richard Dreyfuss in the role of a composer-turned-conscientious high school music teacher in the acclaimed 1995 movie "Mr. Holland's Opus," that is close to the mark. As it happens, Mr. Hoover, 28, is one of five urban music teachers nationwide who will be honored at New York's Carnegie Hall Feb. 14 as winners of the first Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation Award.
Wherein lies a story featuring many more characters than that of the fictitious Mr. Holland as well as $10,000 to be given to each teacher, no strings attached.
Mr. Hoover, a genial, modest man, was at home asleep when he got the news in December. He couldn't quite take it in at first, the news still startles him, because he was under the impression that a representative of the foundation, who had visited the school not long before then, was only interested in checking on the school's application for more equipment for the band.
"I'm just ecstatic about the whole situation," Mr. Hoover says in reaction to the news. "You give so much to the kids that when finally something is given you. … What am I supposed to do?" He thinks now he will use the money to further his own musical education. "Administration is fine, but right now, I just like the music and the interaction with kids. I wouldn't want to trade the classroom experience."
The California-based Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation began life almost six years ago through the inspiration of Michael Kamen, composer of the movie's score. Its primary mission is donating new and repaired musical instruments to public schools around the country. The Guitar Center, a national retailer whose CEO Marty Albertson is on the foundation's board, last year donated the money to reward teachers whose personal characteristics closely resemble those exhibited by Glenn Holland, the teacher in the movie.
Selection criteria were based in part on ability to instill a love of music in students through instrumental instruction in grades K-12 and on their ability to do their work under difficult and unusual circumstances. The other four teachers selected from a pool of some 300 schools come from Minnesota, Oregon and two from Illinois
Awards will be presented by Mr. Kamen and Mr. Dreyfuss, a MHOF co-founder, during a Valentine's Day concert with Skitch Henderson conducting the New York Pops in a salute to film music.
"Teachers like these are the inspiration for our children, and their unselfish dedication needs to be recognized and rewarded," says Mr. Albertson, explaining his motives for becoming the award sponsor.
Mr. Hoover is usually at school by 7 a.m. and stays until 7 p.m., supervising all 275 pupils in the band program, out of a total student population of 540. Shaw principal Gregory Thomas says the program is the largest in the city. Students who participate in concert, marching and jazz bands under Mr. Hoover's direction practice before and after school. In addition, he often stays late to give private lessons.
He claims he doesn't know his exact salary, but some of it usually goes for department upkeep. He is as skilled at patching up the school's green, gold and white marching band uniforms (a single uniform costs $462) as he is at fixing instruments in the repair shop. But his main job is teaching musical techniques and fundamentals to teens, few of whom ever played a musical instrument before signing up for the program.
A trumpet player and graduate of North Carolina A&T; State University, he put his own musical ambitions on hold in favor of following his father into the education field. His father, now a teacher in Prince George's County, was Shaw's band director for 33 years before him so it isn't surprising that Wesley Hoover's classroom manner is one of ease as well as authority.
He knows the school, knows the students. Both, he says, are what makes getting up everyday worthwhile. It was this attitude that impressed foundation officials who selected him for the award.
"The pleasure of making music for young people makes me feel 16," says Mr. Kamen, agreeing in a telephone interview from his home in Los Angeles. "Nothing is more inspiring than working with kids." He calls cutbacks in music programs "insane … studying music helps kids study life. It helps improve their understanding of math. We realized that unless instruments are provided and maintained that nobody was going to be able to play anything."
Many music teachers had inspired Mr. Kamen when he was going through the New York City public school system, he says. (He attended Juilliard as an oboist and, before that, the prestigious High School of Music and Art.) Paying a return visit to his high school, he says he was shown "a closet filled with broken music instruments it was an instrument graveyard. It angered me. I got really upset." He got together with Mr. Dreyfuss, found seed money from organizations such as BMI and Sony, and the MHOF was born.
"Other organizations also give teacher awards, but we just felt that since our foundation was based on a film character who was a teacher for many years, we could find teachers inspired by the movie character," adds foundation director Felice Mancini, daughter of composer Henry Mancini. "Many of the [teachers] we interviewed would say, 'That [character] is me; they must have taken my story to use as basis for the movie.'"
Mr. Dreyfuss was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Holland, who is hired to teach music appreciation and only reluctantly agrees to take on additional duties coaching a very undisciplined high school marching band.Holland begins by thinking of the teaching post only as a paycheck and ends up a totally committed mentor who recognizes the enormous value and personal satisfaction involved in the job. The school shown in the movie, however, looks more suburban than urban. At Shaw, several tiles are missing in the ceiling of the classroom, and the "m" is missing from the word "music" on the door leading to the department.
Mr. Hoover has seen the movie and agrees it offers some insight into his world, although he was not directly inspired by it. "I wouldn't say I use any really special [teaching] methods," he says, "although a lot of our movements do follow military routines. Seventy-five percent of the work is done by the kids. The kid who works hardest gets to play at the ninth grade graduation."
Disciplinary approaches are necessary when dealing with a hundred students at a time, he notes. "Kids are held responsible for their actions," he says. "Our philosophy is that for 50 minutes a day it is an academic course, not music for performance."
His own mentor was his father, he says, but he thinks "Mr. Holland's Opus" is valuable in showing audiences the amount of effort required of band members. "The average band member works as hard as a football player," he asserts, pointing to a drum set weighing 65 pounds that an instrumentalist carries on parade. "A tuba weighs between 45 and 50 pounds," he notes.
(Shaw's marching band plays frequently in local celebrations and has traveled four times to Canada to perform. Its next appearance in a smaller version will be Saturday at Georgetown University for a women's basketball game.)
The school had been one of the foundation's first beneficiaries, receiving several dozen large and small items, including seven shiny new Jupiter mellophones, three marching baritones and three euphoniums that are stored wrapped in plastic to prevent oxidation and reserved for concert dates. A single new tuba is listed at $8,700.
"That is the reason why so many schools don't deal with [a band program]," says Mr. Thomas. He says it costs $1,200 for buses any time the entire band performs away from school.
The principal says the repair skills of Mr. Hoover and two assistants have kept Shaw's program alive. No general music appreciation course is offered at the school. "Not that we wouldn't like to," he says, "but it is terribly difficult to maintain any kind of music program."
To save money, Mr. Hoover goes online to find horns at half price, and the school has sponsored several dances to raise funds. With the repair shop in place near storage rooms and classrooms, "instruments can last forever," Mr. Hoover says. "They call me blacksmith," he jokes.

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