“I want to build a relationship with my students. I teach them how to play their instrument, but there is so much more to being in a band than just reading notes. I want to get to know them so I can motivate them to go beyond what they think they can do. Then they don’t know what’s hard. Being in a band teaches you life skills for everything.”
Indian Springs Middle School (ISMS) Band Director David Puckett is described as a professional, engaging educator who thoroughly prepares his students in a challenging, creative and loving atmosphere. Whether his students continue music in high school or college, they are prepared to be the best they can be in whatever career they choose.
In the past few years, Indian Springs has become one of the premiere middle school band programs in the nation, winning state and national honors. Puckett was in the top 25 (out of 13,000 names submitted) for the 2016 Music & Arts Music Educator of the Year. Last year Indian Springs was the Texas Music Educators Association Honor Band in its class; won at the 2014 Midwest Clinic, an international event; and the 2013 John Philip Sousa Foundation Sudler Cup.
The ISMS Wind Ensemble is one of seven middle school bands in the country to be selected to play in March at the Music for All National Concert Band Festival in Indianapolis.
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“It is inspirational what these kids are accomplishing. Sixty-six seventh and eighth graders will be participating in a 45-minute performance. There will be master classes and critiques from teachers I have long admired. The kids will be able to talk to these professionals,” Puckett explains. He emphasizes that being selected for a competition is the result of teamwork between all the ISMS band directors and band students.
Puckett helped to open Indian Springs in 2001. The school is home for grades five through eight. Students start in the music program in the sixth grade with homogenous classes of like instruments. Seventh and eighth grade music students audition for one of the three ability-based bands. Under Puckett and the two other band directors, the students make beautiful music together.
“At that age students are thinking about who they are and where they fit in. The music program is more than learning to play an instrument although we give them a strong music foundation. When they are part of an ensemble, they have to get along. I think our Senators and Congress could learn something from being part of an ensemble,” Puckett jokes.
Mark McGahey, Keller High School band director, says “David creates a love of music that challenges his students, but doesn’t burn them out. By the time they get to high school he has prepared them with a strong understanding of how to play their instrument, but more than that, a prepared student. They have correct posture, they are quiet and attentive and have a pencil ready to take notes. He makes our job a lot easier.”
Other traits Puckett has instilled in his students are time management, setting goals and ethics. “He plants the seeds and that is pretty special,” adds McGahey.
Puckett admits that he and the other band directors set a high standard even for young beginning musicians, but he is constantly amazed at what they can accomplish. “It is important for the students to understand how much they can learn.”
It is a seven-year plan that prepares them if they want to continue music in college, but really it’s a plan for life. “I try to show them how far they can go by constantly challenging them. They will never reach perfection, but they can become better and better.”
Stacie Martinsen, a theater teacher at Ridgeview Elementary, has a son in Puckett’s band and says, “He instills high standards in areas of education, performance, commitment and character that prepares them for life beyond the school doors. It is not all work; he makes time for play as well.”
She adds that as a parent, “He provides my son with a family, a community which is important in middle school. He has high expectations, but he knows the kids can do it. He is a good leader and motivator. The kids will walk through fire and snow for him. He provides a safe environment for them to thrive.”
Puckett likes to think band is for everybody — even if you are not good at it. Band is discipline, team work and, hopefully, an appreciation of music.
In the Keller school district it has been noted that eight out of the 10 top students at its high schools are fine arts students.
Carson Smith, now a Keller High School sophomore, was a trombone student in Puckett’s beginners’ class. “There were 10 of us learning trombone and he made it enjoyable to learn. And it was interesting how we all came together for a concert.”
Smith chose football over continuing the trombone, but the teamwork required and extra work such as vocal exercises necessary to play well made an impression on him. “When I hear an orchestra or band play, I appreciate all the work involved. And it carries over onto the football field — and life.”
Fine arts programs often have to defend their role versus academics, but not in the Keller school district. It has been noted that eight out of the 10 top students at its high schools are fine arts students.
Puckett says that the arts, especially music, activate areas of the brain that language and math activities don’t. “I hear from parents about their child who isn’t so good in academic areas, but thrives in band and then it carries over to their other studies.”
He recalls the joy on the faces of students when they achieve success in playing an instrument. “They are blowing into the instrument, reading music, tapping their feet in time and realizing ‘I am pretty good.’ I didn’t understand this as a young teacher, that in band you are teaching the whole child and not just the instrument alone.”
McGahey notes that the fine arts develop a well-rounded student. “We use the vehicle of music to promote discipline, set goals, how to overcome obstacles.”
Puckett believes that “fine arts kids are the hardest working kids in school. They constantly surprise me in good ways. Kids love a goal. I remember when I first took kids to competition and saw how much they enjoyed the response from the audience. That is why I try to provide opportunities for them to achieve, why I have them play for local events as well as state and national competitions.”
Next year the ISMS band program will have new challenges as the school will have a smaller enrollment — by half. “But,” says Puckett, “I always say it is quality not quantity. We will continue to do our very best.”