Austin West with Christopher Shultz, director of bands, at Rodgers Middle School.

Christopher Shultz, Rodgers Middle School’s director of bands, took on his role in the Riverview school in 2018 and was tasked with rebuilding Rodgers’ music program from a dwindling nine-member band. Four years later, Shultz leads a strong, growing, 160-musician, award-winning band, despite limited funding and instruments.

Shultz’s first course of action was aggressively recruiting young musicians and getting them to put their trust in him as he rebuilt the program. Within nine weeks, he had increased the membership to 74 seventh and eighth grade beginners. While his older students practiced their skills and honed their musical talents, he worked to enlist 45 additional sixth graders.

In just over a year, Rodgers’ band was well over 100 students and fell just one point shy from a ‘Superior’ ranking (the highest ranking for performing arts competitions) in the district concert band festival. Just as the blossoming band was gaining the recognition they deserved, the coronavirus canceled the next festival and the next opportunity for Shultz students to showcase their talents as a group.

However, this year the band, with three full years of experience and practice under their belts, performed and earned their first Straight Superior, indicating all four judges awarded them a Superior ranking.

Alongside his students’ success, Shultz’s efforts earned him the Tom Bishop Award by the Florida Bandmasters Association.

“I was nominated by John Davis, the band director at Riverview HS; voted on by the district at our meeting; and then sent to the state,” explained Shultz. “The award is given out for ‘remarkable positive growth and impact in a relatively short period of time.’”

Shultz applauded his students’ growth in both musical talents and developing relationships as they step up as leaders and work together, taking pride in everything they do.

Austin West became Rodgers’ first musician to earn a spot on the exclusive All-State band, earning second chair trombone player. The eighth grader and future Riverview High School student is working toward the title of the district’s ‘Master Musician.’ He earned a Superior at the Solo and Ensemble Festival with his high school-level solo piece.

“The success of the program only comes from their success,” said Shultz. “Watching them hit their mark on the little achievements is so rewarding.”

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Lily Belcher is a writer for The Osprey Observer and Christian Voice Monthly. She started as an intern in the summer of 2020 and has continued to write for the Osprey since completing her internship. Lily plans to attend the University of South Florida and major in Communications while writing for The Oracle.