The First-Person Project

Dr. Jason Bouchard ’97

Enfield, CT

Music Teacher, JFK Middle School, Enfield, CT; Professional Musician

Major: Music Education

My interest in music came about as I grew up in Enfield, Connecticut. I went to a parochial school through eighth grade and started playing music there. I took up the saxophone first, and I was OK at it and enjoyed it – but the school had one tuba and needed a tuba player. I liked the idea of being the only one playing that instrument, so I picked it up and was actually pretty good at it right off the bat. It kind of clicked – unfortunately for my parents, who had bought a saxophone.

I stuck with the tuba, and when I went to high school I went back to playing saxophone. But that school needed a tuba player, too, so I auditioned, and the band director said, “You’re not playing saxophone anymore; you’re playing tuba.” That really got me into music. I started auditioning for other groups. I saw music as a way to travel and meet new people. My high school band traveled a lot – we did competitions, we did trips, and I really enjoyed that aspect of it. I enjoyed the people side of it, the aspect of working with other people. I started studying privately at the Hartt School of Music.

I knew when I started thinking about college that I wanted to be a music teacher and to play music professionally. I auditioned for the music departments at a number of schools. I really liked that Keene State had a history of teacher education, and when I got there I just really felt at home. I liked the idea that I could grow as a musician and educator there. And I really felt Keene State was on the cutting edge of what education is.

After I graduated, I got a job at a middle school in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. I landed there for two years and then an opportunity opened up here in Enfield. My retiring band director called me and said I should apply for his job. So I took him up on it, and I was actually hired at the other high school in town. I spent 12 years there. When I started, the music department there had a concert marching band, but not much else. I developed a very successful program: a concert marching band, two jazz ensembles, four jazz combos, and a full orchestra. We expanded the course offerings and added a theory class.

I had a very, very jam-packed day every single day, which I loved. But that left no time for me to play or perform, which was what drew me to music to begin with. So there was a lot of soul searching and talking to my wife many nights, saying, “I love what I’m doing, but I miss the performing part of it.” When Enfield combined its two high schools, I had the opportunity to move to the middle school, and I took it. At that point I had pretty much stopped playing professionally because every time I was offered a gig I would have to turn it down because I had something to do at my school – a football game halftime show or a parade or a marching band competition or a jazz combo performance.

Teaching at the middle-school level has allowed me to get back into playing, something that happened rather fast from all the connections I had made. And while I was initially missing directing the marching band, now I’m adjudicating marching band shows throughout New England. In this job I’m teaching the students who do not take band, orchestra, or chorus. It’s a program I created after hearing a lecture by an arts education consultant who urged schools to bring music education to all students, not just the ones who had declared an interest in music.

That was a real interesting challenge. At Enfield High we started to develop programs to get more kids involved in music, and when I came to the middle school I created music classes that all students have to take each year. If you create interesting curriculum, you create interesting lessons, and you create hands-on lessons where the kids are making music, they are going to be invested in it.

I hope to not only develop kids into musicians – I really want to develop kids into music lovers. The question inevitably comes up with middle-school students: Why do I have to take music? I say, ‘The reason you study music is because we developed music before we developed language.’

Every year they study an instrument. In sixth grade they’re studying world drums. In seventh grade they study guitar. In eighth grade they study piano. And then we follow all those up with history. Sixth-graders study the history of Western music. We do the Baroque period, the Classical period, we do all the important classical composers. By the time we get to eighth grade the students are composing their own music. They go from writing simple drum music in sixth grade and by eighth grade they’re writing a 40-second composition that’s got four different parts and different melodies and different harmonies. They gain skills on each of the instruments they learn, and by the end we’ve hopefully shown them why music should be an important part of their lives forever.

I’m glad to have found a balance where I can teach and perform. I’m blessed that I can do both. I play in a number of orchestras in the region where I’m principal, or I’m a first-call sub. I’m currently with the Manchester, Connecticut, Symphony Orchestra as principal tuba player. We play a pretty traditional schedule that goes from September through June, and we take the summer off. I’m also a first-call sub for all the groups in the area – the Holyoke Symphony, the Pioneer Valley Symphony, the Old Post Road Orchestra, the West Hartford Symphony. They’ll call me if their tuba player can’t make it. I’ve also played for a number of other groups like the Capitol Winds at the Hartt School of Music, which is made up of music teachers and amateur musicians and gives concerts of band music. I’ve played in jazz and Dixieland groups throughout the years too, tuba with the Dixieland groups and trombone and tuba with the jazz groups. Ultimately what I’ve settled on is trying to find which groups give me the best balance to play on a nice regular schedule, to have time with my family, my wife and my daughters, and then also do my main job, which is teaching.

My wife, Jessica Belmont Bouchard, and I met at Keene State. She was a music education major, too – she graduated in 1998. She’s an academic tutor now. We have two daughters. Madelyn is 12 and she’s a student here at the middle school. Kayla is 10. She’s in fifth grade this year. We do a lot of great stuff with them, they do a lot of great stuff, and they’re both very active and following in our footsteps with music especially. They both play trumpet right now, and Kayla also studies dance. Madelyn is into soccer, and she wants to be a zookeeper one day. We love to travel with the girls and take them to all parts of the country. And we like to be outdoors. We’ve taught them how to ski, and in the summertime we do a lot of fishing and hiking.

I also teach private lessons; I run a studio out of my house. I teach low brass instruments – tuba, euphonium, and trombone.

I recently finished my PhD, too. It was definitely challenging. I’d always wanted to get my doctorate, but I’d put it on the back burner. I got a master’s degree before the girls were born, in curriculum writing and the creative arts, as well as another advanced degree in educational leadership. A PhD seemed like the next logical step. I found a great program in education with a focus on curriculum and teaching. It took two and a half years of coursework and comps and then a year and a half to write the dissertation. My research focused on using music to improve the literacy abilities of middle school students.

I’m as passionate about education as I am about music. I see the two as connected.

What I enjoy about music is that it can always fit whatever mood you have. I listen to music all the time. I use it to help me study. I use it to help me relax. I use it when I work. I find that whether I’m playing music or I’m listening to it, my range of interest in music is widened. I find that even going back to the classics or listening to modern music, jazz, or anything else, helps to center me and then gets me back to being more productive and a better person.

My students always ask me how many instruments I play. I tell them that through Keene State I learned to play them all. All the wind instruments, percussion instruments, string, guitar, and piano. It’s extremely useful to know them all, and I’m always amazed when I meet music teachers from other schools who didn’t get the same kind of education. I couldn’t imagine not actually physically picking up every instrument and being able to play it.