Mike Connell was recently acknowledged for his 35 years of serving as a band director in the State of Kansas. He received the Outstanding Bandmaster 2018 award from the Kansas Bandmasters Association on July 20.
The Outstanding Bandmaster award is presented annually by KBA to Kansas band directors who have distinguished themselves through their musical accomplishments, service to bands and excellence to teaching. It is an honor for those who are nominated for it and even more so for the recipients of the award.
“When I recently looked at the list of past recipients of this award and saw the names, I was absolutely blown away—amazed, humbled and so very honored—to be associated with them. And even more so to be included among them.”
Connell retired from the field several years ago, but he continues to fill in on both short-term and long-term jobs for other band directors.
“I must have been meant to be a band director. When I was somewhere around three years old, I went out to play in our front yard. Soon, my mother went out to check up on me and found me missing. She went looking for me down the streets few blocks and found me following and marching with the Lyons High School band. About 13 years later, I led as its drum major,” Connell said.
Connell began his teaching career in 1965 in the small Kansas town of Dwight.
“I was a sort of jack of all trades. From junior class sponsor to scouting for the high school coach to directing the junior and senior class plays to coaching basketball and serving as pep club and cheerleader sponsor. I was also the music teacher for K-12,” Connell said.
After teaching in Dwight, Connell and his wife Cheryl moved to Cimarron in western Kansas. He taught there for six years and credits the placement as the most important in his development as a successful band director.
“The competition with great, young, fellow directors and the friendships and camaraderie we formed followed us throughout our careers. And the students. Their eagerness, their talent, their musicianship, their willingness to take on all new challenges regardless of difficulty and their friendship as we have stayed in touch through the years; all of these were instrumental in my formation as a teacher,” Connell said.
After Cimarron, Connell served in McPherson for seven years. He then went to Marion, where he remained for the bulk of his career for 25 years. He ended his career as a band director in Goessel, after teaching for three years.
“I realized that my grandkids were growing up quickly, and I was missing out on time with them. I came back after Christmas break my last year at Goesse,l and it dawned on me that I had a granddaughter who was already a sophomore in high school, and I was missing out. I decided to enjoy the rest of the school year and then be done.”
Connell enjoyed many highlights during his career, including rebuilding dying programs, several high rankings at state contests and more. One of his greatest memories came from his time at Dwight.
“The members of the boys glee club were large and athletic and pretty proud that they had run off the previous three music teachers. I knew after a couple of days that I had to do something drastic. So I went to the coach and asked to suit up and participate in football practice. I really got beat up, but somehow, I pushed past the all-state center and brought down the all-state fullback for a three-yard loss. The next day, the boy’s glee club started learning how to sing, and they went on to get a 1 at state.”
Connell does not regret retiring to spend time with his grandchildren, but he does miss teaching music to kids.
“I never really saw this as a job,” he said. “I thoroughly enjoyed making music with kids.”