Batavia music teachers ready students for 'A Night of Jazz' fundraiser

  • Longtime Batavia High School band director John Heath and his new assistant (and former pupil) Ben Collins are preparing for

    Longtime Batavia High School band director John Heath and his new assistant (and former pupil) Ben Collins are preparing for "A Night of Jazz," a benefit for music programs in the Batavia schools, sponsored by the Batavia Music Buffs. Rick West | Staff Photographer

Published: 3/12/2010 12:00 AM

"As a music teacher, my position is 'give me my music, give me my kids and I'm in heaven'," said Batavia High School band director John Heath in a recent interview with SBO Magazine, a magazine for school band and orchestra directors.

Heath's enthusiasm for music, especially band music is unequaled. His love of the students doesn't just fall on his own band members. Orchestra and choir students appreciate all of the extra time he takes working with them to make the musicals the best they can be. He is loved by the sports guys who know that the zany band director is there for them as well, whether it is directing the pep band or dancing his annual homecoming dance at the pep rally. They all think Heath is cool, and that makes music pretty doggone cool as well.

A few years ago, I did a story on the late Warren Feltes, the director of bands at West Aurora High School. Feltes praised our esteemed band director, not only for all that he had accomplished as a student at West Aurora but also at the University of Illinois where Heath was the only member of the Marching Illini to be elected band president for two consecutive years.

It is his ability to not only relate to students that has made him successful, but his ability to inspire them as well. He is respected by his colleagues across the state and those same teachers recently voted him to be president of the Illinois Music Educators Association.

Keeping abreast of what is happening in music programs across the state is only one part of his job as IMEA president. He is the "voice of music" to 5,000 members that include choral directors and orchestra directors as well.

Pretty exciting, but if you talk with John Heath, he'll tell you the most exciting thing he is experiencing right now are all of the changes for music at Batavia High School. If you haven't heard about the new music wing, he'll tell you how great it is. All the additional space, soundproof practice rooms, lockers for instruments a library for music- these are just some of the things that excite him.

He is also excited about his new assistant band director, Ben Collins. Collins was a former student of Heath's.

"He is really enthusiastic," Heath said. "He is full of ideas and the energy to go along with it."

Heath is especially excited about a new rock and roll class that Collins has set up for the high school. It teaches music methods to students who aren't necessarily involved in the music program.

"Music is for everyone," he said. "Even though we have 27 percent of the student body involved in music, I am excited that we are reaching non-music students with this new class."

That would be exciting for Dave Mamminga, a former band director who tried to expose students to new music back in the 1970s by starting the Batavia High School jazz program.

The jazz bands have grown to multiple bands at the high school and will now have their own showcase. The Batavia Music Boosters have planned "A Night of Jazz," featuring the jazz bands in a club setting. The event takes place this Friday, March 19, at the Pipefitters Banquet Hall in Aurora.

"Jazz music is something that the students can continue to play after high school," said Heath. "It's a great opportunity for these kids to be able to play in a real setting with dinner and dancing going on while they play."

Many of the local Batavia music teachers play on weekends or during the summer with their own bands. Rita Feuerborn of Rotolo Middle School has played violin with Kanye West. Both Rob Buckley, also of Rotolo, and Randy Szostek, at Louise White Elementary School, continue to do drum set for a variety of bands.

"Randy Szostek was able to secure charts for us that are great dance charts," Heath said. "It should be a fun night for the students as well as those who attend."

That's dinner, dancing, live entertainment, raffles and auctions all for only $25. You can't beat the price. Tickets must be purchased by Friday, March 12. Plan now to attend and be sure and stop at John Heath's table and thank him for all he has done not only for the music students in our own community but for those across the state as well.