By LYDIA BERGLAR
Jonah Browder, the newly appointed Dade County Schools Marching Band director, is excited to be returning to the place where his love of music began. Browder had never touched an instrument until sixth grade at Dade Middle School. Just before sitting down with the Sentinel, Browder visited the middle school band students. “It was a full-circle moment for me, being in that room. That’s where my passion started.” He compared playing his first notes on the trumpet to trying your favorite food for the first time. “It just felt right.”
Browder learned music under Chris and Heather Chance, and he is proud to continue growing the program that they built. He said, “I would not be in this position without Chris. They’ve built such a great legacy here, and I want to grow off that rich soil.”
One of Browder’s focuses is a mutual relationship between the band and the community. “I like to say that music is not selfish. Even when you’re practicing, parents or guardians hear you. I would love to get more of the community involved and be active in the community. We do hold concerts and we’re part of the parades, and that will never change, but I’d love to do more events.”
Browder envisions having small bands at community events. He said, “With the community’s involvement, this program can grow to what we’ve not seen in Dade County.”
Recognizing that not every student will pursue music after graduating, Browder still believes that band can still offer students a space to belong, passions to pursue, and lessons to learn.
He said, “Even students who don’t go on to do music as their career will always remember their time in band and the lessons they learned. One of those big lessons is integrity – doing the right thing when no one else is watching. Also, the leadership skills you get within this band program are significant.”
He explained that band teaches delayed gratification. “We won’t get that real gratification until we perform our hearts out at a concert. Today’s generation gets instant gratification on their phones and laptops, but with band, you can’t suddenly wake up as the best musician. You’re going to make mistakes in the band room, but it’s about pushing through.”
Similarly, Browder believes students can practice kindness while in the band. “It starts in the band room, having that respect and kindness towards everyone in the room. Then, it’ll branch out to other students. My goal is that you can pick out the band kids because of their kindness. I want to be a light for my students, showing them how to support others, like the Chances did for me.”
He credits the Chances with encouraging him to pursue college scholarships to see where music could take him. They also let him test out his potential career path through work-based learning. He explained, “I knew I wanted to do something with music. I loved to perform, but I also took leadership roles in the band program. For my work-based learning senior year, I worked with the middle school band in the mornings. I actually conducted this year’s seniors for their sixth grade spring concert.”
Browder said that band is a great way to see beyond Dade County. While at DCHS, he visited Chicago and Universal Studios with the band. While studying music education at Jacksonville State University (JSU), he played in multiple ensembles and marched with the Marching Southerners each season. He enjoyed traveling with the Southerners to Maine and Italy, and he’s eager for other Dade County students to have opportunities like these.
Even so, Dade County is home for Browder, who said, “I’m blessed and honored to take on this position. I was looking for jobs elsewhere when I found out Chris and Heather were no longer going to be here. The family aspect, the community…this is home. It’s been so wonderful to walk around and have people say, ‘Congratulations and we’re excited for the band!’”
Browder’s fiancée, Mikayla, graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School where she played clarinet in the band. She is now a pediatric emergency room nurse, and she is equally happy to be returning to the area.
Browder thanks the Lord for leading him on the path of music, saying, “I owe it to the Lord for putting me in this position. I give Him all the glory.”
When discussing the connection between music and the rest of education, Browder’s face lit up. He explained, “The great thing about band is it includes the history of a music piece. It also includes math, because we deal with a lot of time signatures, which are fractions. Then, there’s a science to sound waves and tuning. And, it’s an active thing, because we’re marching and using our breath and bodies.” Browder hopes to, through these connections, strengthen band students’ overall interest in education.
He also believes that connecting with the emotional element of music can draw students in. He explained, “You’re portraying an emotion. I ask the students, ‘Did you feel that? How did the music make you feel?’ If I can help my colleagues at the middle school and high school get those kids engaged and get them wanting to come to school every day, that’s huge.”
When talking with Browder, his passion for music, band, and the students of Dade County is palpable, but when trying to narrow down what it is that gets him so excited, he mentions two points: First, “It’s the family aspect. We’re here to make music together. I still talk to the friends I made in that room today. That sense of belonging…I want my students to experience that.”
Second, “The music we’re playing.” Browder appreciates a variety of music, and he said, “We won’t be playing the same music all the time. If you don’t like one song we’re playing, you’ll like the next one. The kids will be able to resonate with one (or multiple) pieces.”
Currently, Browder is gearing up for summer camps. “We’re about to start June camp, and we’ll have July regular band camp. These kids put in the hours, they put in the work. The athletes are out there working in the heat, and we’re right there with them.” He hopes that Dade County will recognize band students’ dedication and enjoy the musical fruit of their labor.