SEQUIM — George Rodes is back in his comfort zone… that is, in a band room.
“Music is a learning vehicle,” Rodes said. “You don’t have to be gifted or talented necessarily to be involved.”
That’s the theme leading up to the start of the new school year as Rodes, Sequim Middle School’s new band director and seventh-grade choir teacher, looks to make his mark in building the Timberwolves’ band program.
Rodes is spearheading a “Tour of Instruments” from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday in the Sequim Middle School cafeteria.
Set during Timberwolf Days, the middle school’s student orientation, “Tour of Instruments” features musicians from across the area demonstrating various instruments for students interested in joining or re-joining the band program.
Musicians attending the event, Rodes said, include those from the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra, University of Washington, University of Southern California and Washington State University, in addition to the Sequim City Band, Port Angeles Symphony and other groups.
“It’s a neat way to get things started,” Rodes said.
Rodesis filling the position vacated by David Upton, who taught with the Sequim School District for nearly 20 years before his retirement.
Rodes looks to expand Sequim Middle School’s band offerings this year beyond the regular class day, adding an extra-curricular drum line dubbed Timberwolf Thunder and a color guard similar to what Sequim High School offers.
Students can sign up for band or either of these after-school activities at Timberwolf Days.
A music educator with 22 years of experience, Rodes also has created a new website specifically for students at www.timberwolfmusic.org, where youths can sign up for band and choir, get supply lists, learn about individual instruments, get news and important key dates, and find other resources.
The new director has hopes to start a jazz band for seventh-and eight-grade students in coming years, and even the SMS band room itself is getting a makeover with a mural outside the room.
Even if a student is remotely interested in band or choir, Rodes said, “We can find a place, to figure something out.”
Rodes taught for a year at Central Kitsap High School in Silverdale, but left the position as his father began an 18-month fight with cancer that took Nick’s life.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him,” Rodes said of his father. “He’s still influencing me.”
With the economy struggling in the first decade of the 2000s, Rodes took a job at Costco but still kept his hand in music, joining the Sequim City Band and the Port Angeles Symphony.
A chance encounter with a customer regarding computers at Costco led Rodes to a job with the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula. Rodes then served as club director of the Boys & Girls Club’s Mount Angeles unit in Port Angeles; the position fit with what he was used to with teaching, he said.
Two years ago, however, with his heart still leaning toward teaching, Rodes left his club director position and took up substitute jobs with the Sequim and Port Angeles school districts, filling in for band and choir directors
“It seemed like a step backwards (to others) but in my mind, it wasn’t,” Rodes said.
Last school year, crowding issues at Greywolf Elementary led Rodes to a part-time position teaching music to kindergartners.
Rodes, who said he loved his position and had high praise for Greywolf principal Donna Hudson, said his goal was to give 5 and 6-year-olds a positive experience with music that would stay with them for a long time.
“It was a really cool experience getting to know the kids,” Rodes said. “I was in my zone … doing what I love. The kids reciprocated.”
Rodes, who has lived in Sequim for about 15 years with his wife Ludmilla and son Niko, said he’s particularly looking forward to collaborating with Sequim High School band director Vern Fosket — “(Vern) was the first person I met in Sequim,” Rodes recalled — and SHS choir director John Lorentzen, to make sure there is continuity between the two schools’ programs.
One thing Rodes noticed as he began assessing what SMS’s band program looked like was the rather poor collective shape of the instruments. He said repairs for current instruments is more than the program’s annual budget, not counting addition of new equipment.
Rodes said he’s been developing a core group of community members to help out. The Sequim City Band, a group with which he no longer plays but retains connections, donated about $3,000.
“I was absolutely humbled from the response from the city band,” Rodes said.
But the new band director is still seeking support. Band instruments are expensive purchases — a three-quarter-size tuba runs about $8,000, he said — and building a program with inadequate instruments is difficult.
Unused equipment that community members would be willing to donate would be appreciated, Rodes said.
“If we get four or five horns, that’s a lot,” he said.
Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].