Music Teacher Feature: Jonathan Laflamme

by Luke Taylor, Minnesota Public Radio
March 25, 2014
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St. Paul, Minn. — Classical MPR's Teacher Feature highlights the lives and work of music teachers throughout Minnesota.

Jonathan S. Laflamme
Director of Bands
Little Falls Community High School
Little Falls, Minn.

What would you say is your primary instrument?

Trumpet.

Where did you go to college?

I got my undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, earned a Master of Music in Conducting at St. Cloud State University, and have pursued further studies in composition and education at St. Cloud State University and at North Dakota State University.

Who or what inspired you to become a music teacher?

My middle school and high school band directors, Mike Roemhildt, James Erickson and Charlie Leibfried; my college advisor, lesson teacher and jazz director, Professor Robert Baca at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and Dr. Rik Hanson from St. Cloud State University.

Which grades and classes do you teach?

Grades 9 to12 jazz ensemble, jazz combo, symphonic and wind ensemble instrumentation setting for American Wind Bands, and lessons on all band instruments.

I also direct Jazz Ensemble II, Jazz Combo, Chamber ensembles like clarinet choir and brass quintet, two pep bands, one marching band and the aforementioned concert bands.

In what ways do you try to encourage your students to appreciate and participate in music?

In every way possible! My goal is to make a difference in their lives, to enable them with the confidence and tools to succeed through music, usually by accomplishing a great achievement as individuals and as a group that they did not believe was initially possible.

Be it going to concerts, participation in ensembles, the studying of multiple instruments, research and international tours, my students are empowered — hopefully, in a variety of ways — to become the very best they can be.

Where do you see music education fitting into the broader educational spectrum? How does it help or enhance other curricular areas?

I think the question can only be answered by the current and upcoming music teachers. The importance, value, direction and excellence of music education is solely molded in the hands of today's music educators.

What's one of the most memorable moments you've had in the classroom (or had while teaching music)?

We learned a famous band composition about loss of family and performed it for a family recently experiencing tremendous loss. One of music's truest purposes was achieved during that process.

Also, preparing for and performing at the Minnesota Music Educators Association (MMEA) State Convention with my first teaching assignment, Pierz, Minn., high school band.

Lastly, watching students become adults in spectacular international music tours and mundane everyday rehearsals.

Do you have a story of an experience where music education made a difference in a student's life?

I have countless, but not because of me; it's because of the willingness of students, particularly high school students, to be open to the spirit of music and to achieve musical milestones that give them the footings needed to reach for and achieve success in other endeavors in both personal and vocational instances.

The great thing about being a band director is that you have a chance to have a student for four years — or depending on the school district, as much as eight years! What an opportunity to really be a rock, cheerleader and positive influence in someone's life!

I can recently remember a student who was kind, courteous and talented but did not apply himself in other subject areas in high school for a variety of reasons. We had a heart-to-heart about life, careers, college and so forth. I told him that the only way he was going to "make it" was to nail the ACT college readiness assessment. That he needed to crush it. I told him that he could find practice tests online and that the summer between his junior and senior years needed to be all about studying for the ACT.

I give these exhortations often, and I even forgot about our conversation until the first day of school the next fall when he showed me a score of 32. He received a college scholarship and is now studying music, and he even came back to Little Falls and spoke to my ensembles about the values of a strong work ethic and perseverance.

Do you participate in music outside the classroom?

I freelance a little trumpet, primarily during the holiday seasons; it's a lot less now that I have a family, and I have shifted from playing to composition.

If you were to help program a day of music at Classical MPR, what would be a piece of music you'd play in the morning?

In the morning, I would play the Finale (movement 4) from Aaron Copland's 3rd Symphony.

Besides the sense of "Get out there and make a difference" that is easily distinguished from hearing the three times Fanfare for the Common Man is used in quotation, this movement epitomizes the very spirit, passion, character — the ethos, if you will — of American Classical Style.

Many American musicologists confer upon Copland the creation of the American Style of classical music with his "self-imposed simplified style," not a European-influenced style. What, in my humble opinion, is most notable is that Copland wrote his first simplified style (American) piece, El Salon Mexico, after spending summer 1934 in rural northern Minnesota! Copland was enamored with the harsh living conditions of simple, rural Minnesotan farmers and laborers during the Great Depression.

After that summer, Copland's music, such as Fanfare for the Common Man, Billy the Kid, Rodeo, Appalachian Spring, Lincoln Portrait and Old American Songs grabbed the heartstrings of all classes of American people. I like to think that Minnesota played a large role in this great artistic historical development!

What piece of music would you play in the evening?

In the evening, I would play Bedrich Smetana's Ma Vlast (My Fatherland): Vitava (The Moldau River).

This was one of my first deep connections in music that I experienced as a young person. I had the opportunity to perform this piece in the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra's Youth Symphony when I was in high school.

This programmatic tone poem takes the listener down the Moldau River through what is now the Czech Republic. The painting of the scenery and events happening along the river is so clearly characterized in the piece. This composition really invites the listener to feel as if he or she is floating down the river. It really makes a nice piece to listen to prior to going to sleep.

Listen to Classical MPR in Little Falls on either KSJR 90.1 FM or KBPR 90.7 FM.


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