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Curtis Gaesser says music is means of instilling respect, responsibility in Folsom High students

By: Margaret Snider, Telegraph Correspondent
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FOLSOM, CA - Folsom’s “Mr. Music” was named the district’s teacher of the year for 2011. Curtis Gaesser is the music director for Folsom High School, a position he’s held since 1987. Gaesser claims his biggest accomplishment is helping to instill in the students how to be respectful, responsible adults. “We’ve had some terrific music moments and many successful performances, and those are all grand, but that’s kind of what I expect,” Gaesser said. He said it is still surprises him when he finds that kids have not had more expected of them until they got into the program. “They’re just kind of shocked at first, and then they figure it out,” Gaesser said. “Seeing them after they’ve been here four years, knowing that they need to keep pushing themselves to be good at something, I think that’s the best.” Anyone watching Gaesser lead the Jazz Choir through their paces can see that the students have their hearts in the work. “I like working with Gaesser because it’s a different style,” said Ally Bock, who is in the Jazz Choir. “He doesn’t baby you like a lot of teachers seem to do . . . He gives you the hardest stuff you can imagine, and then tells you to go learn it, and come back and then (he will) make it perfect.” Tristan Bonds, also in the Jazz Choir as well as Chamber Choir, agrees. “It has the idea of a college level class almost, where we are in charge of learning all the parts, and doing everything for ourselves,” Bonds said. “We come together and he’s just the artist, I guess you could say. He takes all the pieces and puts the puzzle together and just makes it into a masterpiece.” Out of the hundreds of awards that have come to the school through the music program, probably the Downbeat Magazine student music awards are the most prestigious, according to Gaesser. “The Jazz Choir has won the National Award as the Best Jazz Choir for the past 15 years in a row I guess, now,” Gaesser said. “The band has won it 8 times, the last 5 years in a row.” Out of all the trophies and awards lining the walls of the music room, Gaesser said a lot of those are for the marching band. “Our District has a vision and has always had a vision,” he said. The parents’ booster club supplements what is provided by the school. “It is getting difficult,” Gaesser said. Because of that, he started the not-for-profit Roll Hills Arts Academy in order to help cover for the dwindling availability of music programs in the schools. “We have people with doctor degrees giving lessons to beginners so they’re being trained correctly,” Gaesser said. “We have a jazz band put together from Oak Ridge, Ponderosa, Vista, Granite Bay High Schools.” He finds it fun to work with kids from a lot of different schools, and the conglomerate jazz band applied for entry to Next Generation Festival in Monterey. “We’re accepted and we’re going to be competing there as a unit this month,” Gaesser said. “Which is really exciting for me because they only chose five or six bands to compete, from all over the country.” Besides the Folsom High School’s multitudinous awards, Gaesser has received many himself. Among them, he was named “The Most Outstanding Music Educator” by the California Music Education Association in 1995, and California State Jazz Educator of the year in 2003. In 2007, he received the Downbeat Annual Achievement Award in Jazz Education. More information about the Folsom High School music program can be found at the Music Boosters’ website, folsommusic.org.