finish lines: Jason Cheskawich

Photo by Martha Rial

Jason Cheskawich is in his seventh year teaching at Mt. Lebanon HIgh School where he teaches music technology and AP music theory and also directs the Wind Ensemble, Concert Band, Marching Band, Jazz Ensemble and various small ensembles. He received his bachelor of music in 1998 from Duquesne University, where he studied trumpet with George Vosburgh and conducting with Dr. Robert Cameron. Jason lives in Mt. Lebanon with his wife and fellow Mt. Lebanon music educator Amanda Cheskawich, and their three children, Lilly, Carson, and Emma.

cheskawich_w-band-lineTell us how and why you become a band director. I knew I wanted to teach music since the seventh grade. In addition to my school band experiences, I studied privately, traveled the country with a drum and bugle corps and played in the River City Youth Brass Band. During college I worked with some wonderful local bands. That only reaffirmed my desire to become a band director and run a program of my own.

How have marching bands changed?  Marching band has definitely evolved. Currently there are quite a few popular styles—military style, show style, dance bands and bands that emulate modern day drum and bugle corps. The Blue Devil style is closest to a drum corp. Although we have a “modern” style, we also respect our band’s traditions. This is the second year we’ve had a themed show. Last year we performed music from Wicked, and this year we are performing selections from the Beatles. The kids love it, but I think the parents love it even more!

What is most satisfying about your work? Most challenging?  To make music is to experience what the word “beauty” means. Cultivating that experience with students is incredibly rewarding. That said, sometimes it is challenging to convince high school students to let go of their inhibitions in order to make beautiful music with one another.

Marching band seems as much a sport as a musical exercise. What skills do band members need? It is a sport! Performers on the field must possess the physical strength, agility and stamina to get through an eight-minute show. There have been studies—Google it. In addition, members must use all domains of the brain simultaneously while constantly monitoring and adjusting every performance aspect. It is a challenge, both physically and mentally, for sure.

How important is parent support? We can’t achieve our program goals without their support. Most of our parents help through the Mt. Lebanon Band Builders.  From chaperoning to fundraising and everything in between, we have a job for those willing to help! Most importantly, parents can encourage their kids to practice, prepare, be nice to one another, pay attention, and respond appropriately. Prepared, skilled, musicians, who know how to get along with one another, are extremely valuable in any band.

What life skills do kids gain from band? Performing, working together, letting go of inhibitions, doing your best, overcoming adversity, doing what needs to be done whether or not you want to do it, making your own fun and having a great time. These skills are not just music skills; they are life skills. Although many of our students will never be professional musicians, the skills they develop will always serve them well. We don’t just create wonderful musicians; we create wonderful people— through music.

Do you have a proudest band moment?  The Mt. Lebanon Wind Ensemble performance at the PMEA State Conference and at Carnegie Hall were unbelievable experiences. Experiences I never thought I would have as an educator. Marching in the Stanley Cup Parade this June was my most recent proud moment. I am happy we got the call to participate and thrilled for the kids, as they performed for a massive audience and interacted up close and personal with the Penguins players.

When you’re not directing the band, what music do you listen to? It is important to listen to high quality music, so your musical ear stays properly “calibrated.” However, I give my ears a break every day by listening to sports talk radio. My musical tastes are pretty diverse. On my playlist right now are Billy Joel, Peter Gabriel, Adele, Copland, and Beethoven. I also have Eric Whitacre, The Clarks, The Police, Genesis, The Beatles and Rush. I’m always looking for great new music, so pass any suggestions my way!