On the Record with ... Brian Weidner

Brian Weidner, District 156’s fine arts coordinator and band director, poses for a portrait Thursday at McHenry East High School. Weidner is leaving the district after 12 years to pursue a Ph.D. in music education at Northwestern University.
Brian Weidner, District 156’s fine arts coordinator and band director, poses for a portrait Thursday at McHenry East High School. Weidner is leaving the district after 12 years to pursue a Ph.D. in music education at Northwestern University.

McHENRY – Brian Weidner paused in speaking as the bell that signals the end of a period at McHenry East High School chimed.

“That’s obnoxious,” he said. “I won’t miss that.”

McHenry High School District 156’s fine arts coordinator and band director, though, has a long list of things he will miss.

Weidner has been at the district for 12 years as a teacher.

He also graduated from the district.

But now he’s wrapping up his final year at the two high schools with end-of-the-year concerts and graduations. (The graduation standard, “Pomp and Circumstance,” is currently on the top of his least-favorite-to-teach list.)

He will start a doctorate fellowship in music education at Northwestern University in the fall.

Weidner sat down with reporter Emily Coleman to talk about what’s next on his career path.

Coleman: I’m sure lots of people are telling you of their memories, moments that have meant a lot to them. Do you have a favorite?

Weidner: I’ve felt like I’ve been at my own wake for the past month, over and over and over again. An event ends at 8:30, and I finally walk out of the building at 11 o’clock. It’s a lot of just reopening stories that I had totally forgotten about, reopening impacts that I had totally forgotten about.

I don’t know if there’s only any one specific moment that stands out in my head like that was the ultimate pinnacle.

More than anything it’s having those conversations with students once they come back and are able to relate what we did in the classroom to what they’re doing now.

Coleman: Are you sad to leave?

Weidner: I am. The past week and a half’s concerts have really started to drive that home. Right now, I just keep reminding myself I see them tomorrow. I’m not real sure what happens when that final day comes and I go, “I don’t see you tomorrow.” At this point, I’m holding together pretty well.

I’m tremendously excited about the opportunities I’m going to have at Northwestern moving forward, but leaving these students and leaving this program may very well be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I care deeply about not just their musical development, but their development as people.

One of the things I’m proudest of is seeing our successful students here become successful human beings, doing whatever it is their doing. Some of them are musicians, but most of them aren’t. But having those conversations with them afterwards of the impact of what we did in the music classroom has upon their greater life. It’s out of that, that I really wanted to start this Ph.D. program, to figure out what it is about music that catches that.

Coleman: What will you be studying at Northwestern?

Weidner: I’ll be focusing on music education, specifically how cognitive development and music are related to one another. It’s one of the things I’ve become really interested in while here, seeing essentially what music does to the adolescent brain, and I have all these hunches but no real data, no real research behind it.

Coleman: What is one of your hunches?

Weidner: I’m particularly feeling strongly about the connection between music and literacy, that the processes that we do in music, I believe, transfer over to a lot of the things that we’re teaching in the literacy setting.

I think that music – probably better than any other discipline – works at multiple concepts, multiple areas of the brain, multiple processes and relating them together. In order to be a good musician, you have to have physical dexterity.

In order to be a good musician, you have to have historical context. You need to have the self-critical skills. You need to be able to analyze. You need to be able to respond to that analysis. And all of it has to happen in real time.

Those aren’t music skills. Those are great life skills. I just feel like we don’t maximize them as a profession, partially because we haven’t really asked those questions. One of the driving forces of starting this new program is to be able to ask some of the questions and hopefully help everybody else out in pursuing better education for our kids.

Coleman: Are you going to stay in education after your program?

Weidner: Yes, I am an educator most definitely. I’m probably not coming back to the high school level, probably going on to the collegiate level. The end goal is be the head of a music education program at the collegiate level and do research along the way, hopefully prepare not just one school, but lots of schools with great ideas.

Coleman: How did you get into music?

Weidner: I think I got into music, particularly music education, the same way that most people did: They had a great teacher, and they chose to follow after them. I’ve had some wonderful teachers throughout the years, two particularly in music: Marilyn Lillibridge, who had been my middle school band director, and Mark Rohwer, who had been my choir director.

Coleman: You have 5-year-old twins. Have you gotten them into music yet?

Weidner: They dabble. We’ve got a whole shelf full of instruments for them to pick up and use. I’m trying not to force music on them if I can avoid it. We’ll see what happens when they’re all of a sudden seven or eight and still go, “I like playing with this, but I don’t want to study it.”

One of my favorite moments sitting at school was all of a sudden getting an email from my wife with a video attached that they were playing band director in the middle of the living room, screaming, “Conduct the band! Conduct the band!” at about age three.

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