VANDALIA — It wasn’t that long ago that the Butler Marching Band - and the school district’s entire music program - were imperiled by budget constraints.
Those days seem like distant memories to Kurt Westfall, director of bands for the district, as he oversees preparations for the upcoming football and competition season. Westfall, who is a 2006 Butler graduate, returns to a full time position directing band education for grades 6-12 in the Vandalia-Butler Schools.
“It’s awfully nifty for me to return to the program that helped me to love music,” said Westfall.
Westfall said that having band education at the middle school level is important to the district.
“It’s essential because that is where kids learn the foundations for superior musical performance that they carry with them for a lifetime,” said Westfall. “Those are the years they really learn the skill sets necessary for them to be able to participate in a high school level ensemble.”
The Butler bands have a concert program in which the staples of music for wind bands are taught. Westfall hopes to start some ensembles for smaller groups as well, including a jazz band. He also hopes to hold a solo and ensemble event for students in the Vandalia-Butler district so they can be assessed by judges from outside the district.
“The ensembles would allow the students to learn types of music that are different than what they would learn in the classroom,” said Westfall. “One of my goals since stepping into the district is to make sure that the students here at Butler receive the very best in music education. If there is an opportunity we don’t have, I want to try to find a way to make it happen.”
Westfall said that the entire music program has between 300-400 students with 68 participating in marching band. Those numbers are up significantly from a couple of years ago, and there is a large group of sixth graders which is encouraging for the future.
“We have seen a lot of growth,” said Westfall. “I’m hopeful that with such a large group of sixth graders that we will be able to grow the marching band even more.”
Westfall said the band had a exceptional band camp this summer with great weather which has helped the band significantly.
“We were able to set our entire halftime show and football pregame as well as work on our competition pieces,” he said. “We did and awful lot of work, and I think people will be pleased because we have a variety of music styles to offer.”
The Butler Kickline will also be an integral part of the band’s performances.
“It’s always a pleasure to work with the Kickline because their organization is very prestigious and they have had much success in building a successful and competitive organization,” said Westfall. “Year after year they continue to turn out wonderful programs. One of our greatest opportunities is to watch them perform and be part of our rehearsals because I’d like our band to take some of their aspects such as their dedication, passion, and drive and apply that into the marching band.”
In interviewing Westfall, it was hard not to see how enthusiastic he is about music and the band.
“When I was a lost, backward middle school student, I was a lost child so to speak,” said Westfall. “It was here at Butler and having Shane Anderson and Bonnie Sherman leading the marching band where things clicked for me. They guided a lost soul into a life-long passion and something I love. It’s my hope I can convey some of that very same passion to students who are here.
“I think we have a great organization, and music helps make great citizens out of great students.