Composing a Sustainable Note

By Jeannie Howard | Photo Credit: Michael Melnyk

The Richmond High School Marching Band, the Orchestra, and Andrew Wilke, band instructor, were honored to have been requested to play at the opening of the Richmond Ferry Building in January of this year.

Upon accepting the part-time after school teaching position at Richmond High School Andrew Wilke, band teacher, realized he had quite a bit of work ahead of him. “From the first day I walked into the office everyone was speaking Spanish and I thought that maybe it wasn’t gonna work cause I didn’t know what anyone was saying,” explained Wilke. “And the building was a mess with clutter everywhere, so I knew there would be a lot of cleaning.”

Since that first day nearly five years ago, Wilke has not only learned more Spanish, cleaned up and organized the band room, but has also became the full-time band instructor and completely transformed the Richmond High School Band. It had been decades since the school had a real high school level band program, so Wilke was essentially working from scratch. “In decades prior there had been little spurts of programs that existed but sort of fizzled out and were never really full programs, so no one knew what a music program looked like or what to expect,” he shared. “The bar was set pretty low and I knew that I could do better than nothing.”

With the handful of students enrolled in band at the beginning—those that had been begging the school for a real band program—and almost no instruments, Wilke set to work on building the program he wanted. “There is no standard formula for a school music program and it is tricky to find resources to learn about doing music at a Title 1 school,” he said. The lack of available resources did not stop or even slow Wilke down. “So, my first year here there were only eight kids in the program and we still went and did the Cinco de Mayo parade, it was cool!”

By the end of his first year as the full-time band instructor, his class grew to about 25 students and has continued to grow each year thereafter, and currently stands at close to 170 students participating in the five bands classes. “I have two beginning band classes, a string orchestra that we started this year—Hercules is the only other school in the district to have one—a symphonic band, which is the top band, and then a jazz band,” Wilke described.

To have taken a once failing after-school band progr