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St. Alban Roe band teacher Joe Bozzi directed band members including Anya Hawley, Harper Keller and Amelia Joeckel during rehearsal April 17 at St. Alban Roe School in Wildwood. “I’ve just been doing it all my life,” the 89-year-old said about music. “I either teach or play, always.”
St. Alban Roe band teacher Joe Bozzi directed band members including Anya Hawley, Harper Keller and Amelia Joeckel during rehearsal April 17 at St. Alban Roe School in Wildwood. “I’ve just been doing it all my life,” the 89-year-old said about music. “I either teach or play, always.”
Photo Credit: Jacob Wiegand

Band teachers at area Catholic schools say teaching students has many rewards

Band teachers at Catholic schools say music is an important part of a student’s education

St. Gabriel the Archangel School’s band director Sister Gail Buckman, SSND, worked with eighth-graders Emma Brown, right, and Henry Fitzpatrick during band rehearsal April 19 at the school in St. Louis.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
Hanging on the wall in the band room at St. Gabriel School is a small sign that reminds students: “Behind every musician who believes in themselves is a teacher who believed in them first.”

It’s a philosophy that Sister Gail Buckman, SSND, has lived by for 56 years as a music and band teacher at Catholic schools throughout the Archdiocese of St. Louis and elsewhere. She will retire as St. Gabriel’s band director at the end of this school year after 27 years of service.

Music education has a long-lasting impact on students and reaches other areas of development beyond simply learning how to play music, Sister Gail said. Being part of a band allows them to flourish in communication and social skills, critical thinking and the growth that comes from making mistakes — and learning from them. Their participation also is a shared experience that helps them grow in confidence.

“It gives a person a sense of self-assurance,” she said. “They know that they can accomplish something on their own. And then when they get with the band, then they realize — look what we can accomplish together. When the whole band is playing their parts, look at what is happening. Look at what we’re creating together.”

Sister Gail Buckman, SSND, directed band students April 19 at St. Gabriel the Archangel School in St. Louis. Sister Buckman is retiring after 27 years at St. Gabriel and 56 years teaching music and band at Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of St. Louis and elsewhere.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
The band program at St. Gabriel dates to the late 1950s and is one of the few Catholic grade schools in the archdiocese that incorporates it as an option within the curriculum. (Many Catholic grade schools that offer band do so as an extracurricular activity outside of the school day.) There currently are 94 band students in fourth- through eighth-grades at St. Gabriel.

Sister Gail began her musical studies with the piano in grade school. She later took up the clarinet and participated in band, orchestra and chorus in high school. She earned a bachelor’s degree in music theory from the former Notre Dame College in St. Louis, a master’s degree in music education from the University of Missouri-Columbia and can play a half-dozen instruments. Outside of school, she performs with the St. Charles Municipal Band on clarinet and serves as assistant director of the program.

Her music ministry has spanned the elementary, middle and high school levels. Before coming to St. Gabriel in 1996, Sister Gail also taught in the archdiocese at Our Lady of Sorrows in St. Louis from 1970-77; St. Peter, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton/St. Robert and St. Cletus in St. Charles (Consolidated Catholic Schools Band), 1978-96; and several schools in Illinois.

Eighth-graders Joseph Colyer and Nick Schultz, who play alto saxophone, are in their fifth year in the band program at St. Gabriel. They spent part of their fourth-grade year learning virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both said they’ve grown as musicians because Sister Gail has always pushed them to do their best.

“I feel like I’ve been able to understand her when she’s teaching and just be able to stick with it,” Joseph said. “I think that made me like it more. One of the big things is that if you don’t practice, and you don’t take the time to learn your instrument, then you’re not going to be the best you can — and I feel like that’s something she pushed us to do more.”

“I love teaching band. I love teaching period,” Sister Gail Buckman, SSND, said. “It’s enriching. … It’s powerful to watch kids learn.”
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
“And there’s (a sense of) teamwork, because you just can’t play loud,” Nick added. “You have to let other people play too. And that’s really important when you’re playing.”

A great life of teaching

To the west of St. Gabriel, band students at St. Alban Roe School in Wildwood spend their mornings learning from a local jazz legend.

Joe Bozzi has taught music and band at several Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of St. Louis since the 1950s. The 89-year-old currently teaches band four days a week at St. Alban Roe and once a week at St. Margaret Mary Alacoque School in Oakville.

Bozzi grew up in St. Bridget of Erin Parish in the Carr Square neighborhood of St. Louis. His family visited the Hill neighborhood of south St. Louis frequently. Though he didn’t come from a musical family, Bozzi’s father wanted his son to join the drum and bugle corps sponsored by his World War I Veterans’ Group. He attempted to sign up his son when he was about 9 years old, but the group wouldn’t allow it, saying he was too young. When the elder Bozzi threatened to quit the veterans’ group, the bugle corps leaders gave in.

Bozzi eventually transitioned to the trumpet, studying under Italian clarinet player Joe Falsetti and later with Joe Carione, a symphony trumpet player. He also plays the vibraphone, which is similar to a xylophone but plays louder and carries farther due to metal tone plates.

St. Alban Roe band teacher Joe Bozzi greeted eighth-grader Dario Negron before band practice April 17 at St. Alban Roe School in Wildwood.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
He earned a degree in music education from the St. Louis Institute of Music, the forerunner of the Conservatory and School for the Arts (CASA), and played at clubs throughout the St. Louis area, backing up musical icons such as trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonist Cannonball Adderly.

Bozzi began teaching in Catholic schools in the 1950s, starting with Sts. John and James in Ferguson, where he directed the band program. Among his students there was Michael McDonald, who went on to play with the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, along with a solo career. McDonald learned how to play trombone under Bozzi’s tutelage. Bozzi also taught music and led the band at St. Thomas Aquinas-Mercy High School in Florissant for 32 years and has taught at other Catholic elementary schools throughout the archdiocese over the years.

Music arts is an important part of a student’s overall education, he said. “You can see the effects on student achievement in many areas such as mathematics, reading and language arts, cognitive skills and motivation to learn,” he wrote in a letter that he shares with band parents. “You as parents are really on the right track by offering your children the opportunity to be in the band program.”

St. Alban Roe students Harper Keller and Amelia Joeckel played flutes during rehearsal April 17.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
Teaching the next generation of band musicians has been a privilege for Bozzi. “I tell people if I die tomorrow, I’ve had a great life with children,” he said. “And I’ve always, always played. I’ll play music until till I die.”

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