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New teachers bring fun, passion to the band room

For Stacy Toal and Brendan Holly, music is not only their job, it’s their passion.

The two brought that passion and years of teaching experience to Boulder City as new band teachers last fall with Toal at Garrett Junior High and Holly at Boulder City High School.

Now, six months into the school year, things for both as individual teachers and collaborators have gone well.

Holly, a native of Long Island, N.Y. who attended college at Clarion University of Pennsylvania, moved to Las Vegas in 2014 where he taught at Doral Academy and then a year later started working for the Clark County School District. He completed his doctorate in music education from Liberty University in 2021.

“For me, this year has been a whirlwind,” said Holly, whose parents were both music teachers. “We’re in a unique situation here in Boulder City, especially at the high school. We have just one music teacher, so I’m running the band, choral and the general music programs. It’s an interesting learning adjustment for me while also trying to learn about Boulder City and the traditions that are important here and sticking to that and honoring them. It’s a learning curve but I feel like it’s going well so far.”

Toal grew up in New Orleans and went to high school in Lafayette where she played with a highly-renowned high school band. That opened the door for her to attend Louisiana State University where she was part of the LSU Tiger band, jazz band and wind ensemble.

After college she lived in the Phoenix area for 11 years where she a received master’s degree from Arizona State University in oboe performance. She taught there before returning to Louisiana to teach for another decade before moving to Las Vegas in 2018 and has been in the CCSD system ever since.

“I love being here,” Toal said. “When I found out this position was coming open, I was down here visiting the school before they even announced the job. I knew right away this was a place I wanted to teach and I was right. The students are amazing to work with as is the administration. There’s a very positive environment here at Garrett.”

Being that they’re both new band teachers in Boulder City, they come in with a clean slate, which has enabled them to work closely with one another. It’s not uncommon for Holly to go to Garrett once a week to work with the students alongside Toal, which benefits them because by the time they get to high school, he will be a familiar face and vice versa. The eighth graders have also, on occasion, performed with the high schoolers.

“This helps build that vertical articulation of going ‘hey, I’m in the band at Garrett, so I’m going to be in the band at Boulder City High School,’” she said. “I feel like that’s our goal. We want students to look at it as a continuing process of sixth through 12th grade.”

Think of it like a junior varsity and varsity football team. While the varsity team is more advanced and experienced, the two teams often work together and have similar plays in order for the transition for players from JV to varsity be as smooth as possible.

“That’s the hope,” Holly said of that transition for the band students. “We have just one feeder program across K-12 here in Boulder City and it’s definitely a blessing. But like in Vegas, you can have three or four elementary schools feeding into one middle school and then four or five middle schools feeding into one high school.”

Toal agreed and added, “Music is a sequential process of learning. You have to learn certain things in order to get to that next step. If you’re following that, you’re naturally going to get your biggest payoff once you get to the high school. You’ve done all this work learning at the beginning and intermediate levels so if you don’t go on to perform in high school, it’s like you didn’t get to the good part.”

Holly acknowledged that there can a drop-off in band attendance once a student goes from junior high to high school with the added number of extracurricular activities offered, specifically sports. And, there’s only a certain number of students to go around. That’s why he encourages kids to be in the band and if they want to play a sport to do so in order to have a well-rounded student-athlete at both Garrett and BCHS.

The collaboration between the two schools was evident during the winter band program, which saw a standing-room-only crowd at the BCHS auditorium. While both said they were happy with the outcome and proud of their students, they agreed that logistically, it’s better to make the concert into two parts.

That said, “It’s certainly something we’re looking forward to having more of,” Holly said in terms of collaborating. “We’re trying to build the band programs back to where they once were. I have pictures from just 15 years ago of the high school band having 80 members. Right now, we’re sitting at, with our color guard, 43. That’s a big reason why I’m trying to build upon those relationships with the kids here (Garrett) as they move on to high school.”

On those lines, Toal added, “When I was a high school band director, I always thought about middle school directors who had an interesting job because they have the job of making the unfun … fun. If band is not fun at the middle school level, they’re not going to want to do it in high school. You want to make it fun but you also have to cover all these bases so that when they do get to high school, they’re a complete musician for that level.”

Ron Eland is editor of the Boulder City Review. He can be reached at reland@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9523.

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