After six years as band director at Moffat County High School and Craig Middle School, John Bolton said his music program has hit its stride.
“I think the band is operating at my capacity — for what I currently know, and for what I can currently get kids to do ... Unless I get smarter,” Bolton said.
Since Bolton took over in 2004, the music department has seen a steady rise in participation and quality, both of which are quantifiable.
“I started out with about 28 (students) in 2004 when I got here,” said Bolton. “And, it’s progressed and it’s grown.”
Participation has grown steadily in the ensuing years — 48 students in 2007, 65 students in 2008, 73 students in 2009 and 82 students as of the beginning of this school year.
The steady growth of quality, Bolton said, can be measured by results from the Colorado Band Association Regional Qualifier.
Bolton said he plans to take some of his students to Palisade this February for the CBA Regional Qualifier, as he has done for the past four years.
“It’s not a competition,” Bolton said of the event. “We’re not ranked first, second or third, but we’re rated as far as our performance.”
Bolton said the four judges at the event watch the performance with sheet music in front of them. They closely scrutinize the performance, and give the band a rating between 5 and 1, 5 being the worst.
“We’ve come from a 4, to a 3, to a 2,” Bolton said of his students’ past performances. “We’re shooting for a 1, this year.”
“It’s tough,” Bolton said of the event. “The judges are tough. They know their business and they don’t cut anybody any slack.”
Despite this, Bolton said his students’ chances are good this year, if they remain dedicated.
“I’ve got one group that I think can do it this year, if I can just get them to knuckle down and dig deeper,” Bolton said.
Bolton said the programs steady progress is due to two factors.
“I think the number one thing is we’ve arranged the schedule at the high school so kids can take music all four years. That’s imperative,” Bolton said. “When kids start having to choose to take another class over band because that’s the only time it’s offered, we run into trouble.”
The second factor, Bolton said, is consistency.
“I’ve been here for six years,” Bolton said. “Just that consistency has helped us create a comfort zone for these kids. They’re not worried about who will be band director next year.
“I’ve really become part of the furniture.”
Bolton also attributes the success to a colleague.
“The development we have with what (Craig Middle School band teacher) Mr. (Craig) Smith does in the sixth grade carries on up to here,” he said.
Tucker Trujillo, an MCHS senior trombonist, said has been learning from Bolton since seventh grade.
“Mr. B always pushes people to do better—to be better musicians and be better people, in general,” Trujillo said. “The kids from Moffat County always set the standard, because he demands it.
“He’s pretty much the band’s dad. On band trips, sometimes we’ll just say ‘Dad’ instead of ‘Mr. B,’ because it’s easier.”
Bolton said he agrees that he enjoys camaraderie with his students, but it didn’t always come naturally. Early in his teaching career, prior to moving to Craig, Bolton hit some bumps.
“I came out of college pretty idealistic, hardcore,” Bolton said. “I wanted crap to happen yesterday. And I found myself riding kids, being rude, yelling, being mean, just belligerent, trying to get things my way. I wasn’t really conscientious of the students’ needs or abilities.”
During a seminar for band directors in Greeley, Bolton met a seminar clinician who changed his way of thinking.
“He came in and started talking about being human beings as teachers, and about not dehumanizing our students,” Bolton said of his teacher. “I’d grown up religious. I studied. I tried to be a good Christian, and this guy came in and taught me about all the stuff I thought I already was.
“That started turning the wheel of trying to be a better person,” Bolton said.
Bolton said his relationships with students has improved drastically as a result.
“What I’ve found is kids come and work with me because of their loyalty to me instead of their fear of me,” he said.
Kaitlen Bird, a junior at MCHS, said Bolton is a warm and caring teacher.
“There have been some times, I’ll admit, that he helps me more than my parents,” Bird said. “Don’t get me wrong — I love my parents, so much — but he helps me with a lot of perspectives that they don’t have.”