Retired band director leads band camp while district hires new leader

When band director Matt Schatt left his role for a position with the University of Cincinnati, the Independence Board of Education called in a veteran to act as interim director during the transition period.

Ken Gunlicks worked in the Independence school district for 35 years as a band director, teaching high school band, marching band, concert band, local ensemble, girls’ chorus, beginning guitar and working on school plays.

He stepped in to lead the high school marching band through their two weeks of band camp this summer. He said it was a nice setup, nice facilities, and he had a good rapport with everyone.

“You are there for the kids to create an environment to learn and have fun,” he said. “Without this band camp, they would have been at a loss.”

After 13 years of retirement, he had to dust off his old drills and other resources from his time as director. He created a drill for one of two shows student musicians will perform and helped them learn the other drill the previous director made.

“Once you start, it’s like riding a bicycle,” he said. “You can take the teacher out of the school, but you can’t take the teacher out of the teacher.”

Gunlicks was initially surprised when Superintendent Ben Hegedish asked if he would consider being interim director. But he said, “Under the circumstances, I thought they may come to me.”

“There is no doubt that Ken Gunlicks was literally and figuratively instrumental in our band program, having camp and starting the summer with success,” said Hegedish. “A highlight of my summer was seeing Ken back at the helm. He is a master teacher and an even better person. I am so thankful for his investment in our community.”

After helping with the high school’s musical in the spring, Gunlicks already knew some of the students and worked to ensure new students were comfortable with him directing and teaching.

“It was a good time to get back to the old days again,” he said. “It’s a lot of work; it’s for the young at heart.”

In addition to writing drills, he held basic music rehearsals and sat in on interviews for prospective band directors. Gunlicks said he was pleased with how the new director, Michael Greene, held rehearsal skills and interacted with him, the students and the administration.

Greene was hired as the new band director for Independence Local Schools at the board of education meeting on Aug. 2.

“We are hiring people to teach and lead,” said Hegedish. “The band director works with 60 to 100 kids all year and the impact on students is critical.”

Greene earned a Bachelor of Music in Music Education at Kent State University. He also spent four years in the U.S. Army School of Music, where he played the tuba in the 122nd Army Band of the Ohio Army National Guard. He worked as an assistant marching band director for the Cloverleaf Local School District in Lodi, has worked as a substitute teacher in several Ohio school districts, and is a member of the Ohio Music Educators Association.

While his primary instrument is tuba, he has also played the clarinet, saxophone and trombone. He said he was interested in the position because he liked the idea of a smaller town area. “When it became clear the administration and I were on the same page, it was a no-brainer,” said Greene.

Greene came to band camp, even bringing his wife, Paityn, and son, Michael, for a day.

“I was proud the kids were able to handle the transition,” he said. “There was no pushback when I wanted to try new things. I had a good rapport with the kids and now I know about 70% of their names.”

Looking ahead, Greene said he hopes to grow the marching band program by 30-40 students, bringing the total closer to the 100s. He would also like to create more opportunities for students not in a performance-based ensemble.

“I want to get everyone involved in the district, not just band and choir,” he said, adding that he would continue the digital music creation class the school offers. Board member Lynne Laski said the board would support Greene if he decides to come up with new classes. ∞

Photo: Band director Michael Greene (middle) stands with his wife Paityn and son Michael. Photo submitted.