A Chorus of horns, a xylophone, a few tubas and the distinctive high pitch from a row of flutes seep through the doors of the band hall at Faubion Middle School on a recent Tuesday afternoon. It is not an unpleasant sound to the untrained ear, but band director Brian Beck does not have untrained ears. He shouts over the room, “Try harder!”

Beck isn’t being mean. He really does want the group to try harder. He knows the 65 students in the Symphonic I band can do better, and his eerie ability to not only pick out a section of the band that is faulting, but the exact person, both encourages the students and sets them on edge. How does he know? “The faster you go, the faster your air needs to be,” Beck tells the students. “Play stronger even if you’re wrong.”

Faubion's Brian Beck works with his students who are gearing up for the competition season.

Brian Beck works with his students who are gearing up for the competition season.

“Again,” he says snapping his fingers and counting the beats “bump-bumpbump-bump,” and the room full of middle school students follow his direction with no qualms, no backtalk. He encourages them with technical help and a few jokes. “Ooh,” he points to a section that did particularly well on a difficult measure, “hungry like a wolf!” The 1980s reference is lost on the students but they know it’s a compliment. Then, he says to the guys in the back row, “Percussion up in here!” A few students smile at that joke.

For seventh grader Grayson Kenedi, a trombone player who is working his way up to first chair, Beck is difficult sometimes but overall “he’s a very good teacher.” Grayson has been playing for two years and says Beck has earned the students’ trust. He’s not just a teacher. He’s a musician. He speaks to the young teens As though they are band mates, not band students. “I think it helps for him to know how to teach each and every kid,” says Grayson. Beck can play all the instruments in the band from woodwinds to brass. “When I have a difficult time,” says Grayson, “he’ll get out his trombone, and demonstrate a note.”

 

Around the band hall, stacked two and three deep, are trophies lined on top of cabinets. The shiny gold-plated achievements are incentives to these students to keep up the Faubion tradition. In a couple of months, they’ll begin competition season, pitting the best bands in the region and the state against one another.

Faubion plans to dominate. In December, the band traveled to Chicago and played The Midwest Clinic, the world’s largest instrumental music education conference. It’s a real coup in the band world. Bands must submit an application to perform, and the Faubion band was one of only three middle school bands from around the world chosen to play for the conference attendees. Faubion students Premiered their group-written composition: Psychropezia. The strange name came from a student who was trying to find the right word for the mental disorder schizophrenia and mispronounced it psychropezia.

Faubion's Brian Beck can play every instrument and demonstrates whenever students need a little help.

Brian Beck can play every instrument and demonstrates whenever students need a little help.

Faubion students were challenged to write their own music piece prior to the Chicago conference. Beck says he was overwhelmed by the students’ enthusiasm. The only instruction he gave them was to think about “what notes sound cool when you play them?” The students turned in melodies and rhythms that they thought would work best and even wrote pieces for instruments they didn’t play, “I think a tuba should play this piece,” a clarinet player would tell him. “They really challenged themselves,” says Beck. And what emerged was a 12-minute piece with four movements that sounds like a zombie anthem or something from a scene from “The Walking Dead” on AMC.

The students love the piece. “I think Psychropezia sounds like a lullaby from an alien baby,” says percussionist Christian Loth.

“That’s part of the joy of teaching middle school students,” says Beck in his office after band practice. “They’re still young enough to be really excited about music.”

A private composer and musician for 25 years, he holds two degrees in music: a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University-Commerce and a master’s degree from the University of Houston. He and his wife, Dr. Kelley Beck, a neuropsychologist, live in McKinney with their son James. They are expecting their second child soon.

 

Beck has served as a middle school band teacher for the last 15 years, first at Byrd Middle School in Duncanville for 10 years, where he was nominated for Teacher of the Year before moving to Faubion in 2009. Under Beck’s direction, The Faubion band has been ranked eighth in the state in UIL competition, the highest state ranking achieved by any MISD middle school band program.

There is a tradition of excellence to maintain at Faubion, and if the trophies and accolades aren’t enough to remind the students, Beck is there to prod them along.

A private composer and musician for 25 years, Brian Beck holds two degrees in music.

A private composer and musician for 25 years, Brian Beck holds two degrees in music.

“They love him,” says assistant band director Brittney Williams. “He’s really hard on them, but they always rise to his expectations.”

Before students pick up an instrument, they are carefully selected and recruited by Beck and the band teachers from area elementary schools. “We are looking for hard working kids that want a challenge.” And they want students willing to try. “Effort is way more important than ability,” says Beck.

Band is extra, Beck reminds the students. It’s not a game. It’s not for lazy students. And, apparently, it’s not just for nerds anymore. “Over the last 10 years the concept of band geeks or orchestra dorks has really died away. People are a lot more tolerant now.”

On most days, students choose to spend their mornings, eat their lunch or spend time after school in the band hall. “It’s the place to be,” says Beck. Of the 220 sixth through eighth grade students in the Faubion band, a few quit, and Beck estimates 90 percent continue with band in high school. Parents are grateful for the musical influence, not so much the constant racket of trumpet practice in the house, but the skills students learn from band: organization, setting goals and working towards them, the importance of practice, hard work and learning from failure.

“When we are in here,” Beck says, pointing to the band hall, “I’m not just a teacher and they aren’t just students. We’re musicians for an hour. This is our room, our class.”

This story appeared in the April/May 2013 issue of McKinney Magazine.