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Mr. Ehmke Award Recipient

Shay Burk 

Photo courtesy of Hastings Tribune 

Mr. Ehmke

For Troy Ehmke, being a middle school band director is about sharing his passion for music with students.

"I tell my students all of the time that music is a time portal," he said. "It is a way that we can go back in time or create new images without even seeing anything."

Ehmke, who is in his third year as a band director for Hastings Public Schools, was honored recently as a recipient of the Jack Snider Young Band Director Award for 2017 from the Nebraska Bandmasters Association.

While awards are nice, Ehmke isn't in the job for the fame.

In fact, while he was in college at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, he started out studying music performance, a place where he would earn notice. He switched to music business before going to music education.

"To be honest, I didn't want to do education because my dad was a teacher and I knew what he had to go through," Ehmke said.

Ehmke taught for two years at Nebraska City before coming to HPS where he also works an assistant with high school band director Erin Beave.

In the afternoons, Ehmke directs the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade bands along with the JazzCats, the middle school jazz band.

"The thing about middle school is I can relate to them in many ways — video games, sports," Ehmke said. "The best is that at the high school, they've already had the 'ah ha' moments. In middle school, you get to see those light bulbs come on. Once they get it, their eyes light up and they start to play and continue my philosophy that music charms the soul. That's the cool part."

Music, like drawing and painting, is an art that brings out something different in a student that they can't necessarily experience in a math or science textbook, he said.

With that idea of allowing students to express themselves, Ehmke has carried on a tradition at the middle school of letting each band pick one pep band song that it will play at the end of its concert.

"It gives them entitlement. 'That's our song,' " Ehmke said. "It's also songs that they enjoy playing and know."

Outside of the middle school band room, Ehmke is continuing to pursue his own love of music through the 43rd Army Band.

"When I got out of college, I didn't have a venue to perform but I've always thought about joining the military so I thought maybe I could do military band somehow," he said.

With the encouragement of another music teacher from Crete, Ehmke tried out for the 43rd Army Band through the Nebraska National Guard. Initially, there was no spot for a saxophone player in the band, but three weeks later Ehmke got the call he had been waiting for.

"Our commander called and said, 'We have a spot open. We'd like to offer it to you,' " Ehmke said. "I think I screamed the highest scream. I was excited."

On Jan. 11, 2013, Ehmke enlisted in the U.S. Army and the Nebraska National Guard.

"It was the best decision of my life," Ehmke said. "Being a soldier is awesome. Being a professional musician is awesome and putting them together, it's super cool."

Like he tells his students, Ehmke said, there is something about music that is a portal to the soul. It can take a person to another place or time, good or bad.

"It's always cool to be playing for someone even if it's just one person in the crowd to make their life better, to remind them of the good times and sometimes the not-so-good times," he said. "It's nice to remind them life is there to help them with emotions. Music for me is very emotional. It charms the soul, so it's really cool."

Click here to go to the Hastings Tribune article.