GENEVA – Jason Flaks is finishing his 15th year as band director at Geneva Middle School North, the associate conductor of the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra and conductor of the EYSO Brass Choir. He performs throughout the Chicago area as a freelance trumpet player.
This year, he’s being recognized by the Yale School of Music, which has named him one of 50 Distinguished Music Educators in the country. In June, Flaks will attend the 2013 Yale Symposium on Music in Schools, to accept the award and meet with other music educators. After the recent Spring Jazz Concert at Geneva Middle School North, Flaks answered a few questions of Republican contributor Paul Sullivan.
Paul Sullivan: The Yale award, how did that happen?
Jason Flaks: You have to be nominated by a Yale alumnus. I was nominated by Howard Bakken, who taught here for many years. Then, I submitted videos of classes and music instruction. I’m excited about the lineup of people coming [to Yale].
P.S.: The theme of the Yale symposium is: The Role of Music in School Reform. What should students be learning?
J.F.: People in the industry are always saying they want people who can think abstractly, interpret and problem solve. That’s all music is. We’ve had music forever.
P.S.: Your Jazz Band sounded great tonight. How do you get such excellence from middle school students?
J.F.: The talent is there. Getting them focused is the hard part. They have so many other school opportunities. It’s hard to get them to say, ‘I’ll do this,’ to come in early in the morning for band practice. The buy-in [comes] when they make a deep connection with the music and see why it’s so great.
P.S.: As a trumpet player in high school and college, you toured the United States and Europe with groups ranging in musical style from classical to punk rock. Have you always taught?
J.F.: It was my first job out of college. I taught for six years. The first years of teaching were really hard. I didn’t have the patience then. I took a year’s leave of absence and toured with the band Colossal, to see if I could make a living. It was good to get away for a year. When I came back (to teaching), I realized it’s what I’m supposed to be doing.
P.S.: Do you play all musical instruments?
J.F.: You have to, if you’re going to teach. The kids have to look at you as an expert, but I play some better than others. I still practice every day. At night, after my daughters are asleep, I go down to the basement and practice my trumpet.
P.S.: At the end of your 15th year teaching music, any final thoughts?
J.F.: During school, I’m here early. My wife (Chrissa Flaks, band director at GMSS) and I often have evening school events. So I’m looking forward to sleeping in and spending more time with my family.