Music department teachers share their journey

November 1, 2017 — by Muthu Palaniappan and Emilie Zhou

Music teacher Andrew Ford

Michael Boitz’s two decades at school transform music program

With the school’s top-flight music program, it is easy to credit success solely to the hundreds of dedicated students enrolled in it. But behind the scenes for the past two decades, the one constant force has been music teacher Michael Boitz..

When he started teaching here, Boitz was the only staff member in the instrumental side of the music department.

“There was one band and one orchestra; the orchestra was really small,” Boitz said. “I basically did everything. And that eventually built and built, and now it’s a larger program with many staff.”

From early on, Boitz was devoted to music. During his childhood in Minnesota, he was surrounded by three siblings who also played instruments. He started out playing piano, but was also “forced” to learn the accordion at a young age. In elementary school, Boitz learned to play the cello and trumpet, and continued to play the tuba, euphonium and trombone in high school and college.  

After going to Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., originally thinking that he was going to become an engineer, Boitz began to feel a stronger connection with the music classes he was taking in school because of the instructors.

“I kept gravitating back to music and I would gravitate to music education specifically,” Boitz said. “I tried really hard to not go into music because it was the stronger desire of my parents that I do something else.”

Boitz started working as a short-term music educator in Minnesota. In 1997, he started teaching at Saratoga High, with the intention of staying only for a few years, but he found a home here.

“I really loved the school and the administration, who were really excited to build the arts program for kids,” Boitz said. “It’s just been a 20-year labor of love, and I think I have 20 more left in me.”


Shiuan starts as a student and returns to the school

Jason Shiuan, who teaches and directs the concert, jazz and marching bands, is in his second year of teaching at the school.

Shiuan, a 2011 SHS graduate, grew up attending schools in Saratoga and started playing piano at age 5 and later joined the band in fifth grade. It was during the summer before eighth grade, when Shiuan’s brother was going to college, that Shiuan decided that he wanted to make  a career in music education.

“[My passion] always circled back to music, so I knew that was something I really enjoyed,” Shiuan said. “I knew I was never going to be a performer. I never liked to be isolated and practice alone in a room, so then I gravitated towards working with people, which evolved into teaching.”

His love for music continued to grow, as he continued to play in band throughout all of high school and college. He later graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in music education. At Northwestern, he continued to play his primary instrument, the saxophone, and learned to play other new instruments, as well as how to conduct and teach music.

Besides the higher levels of performance and dedication, Shiuan doesn’t feel that the music program has changed much. After attending the school as a student and coming back to teach, Shiuan feels as though it’s been a smooth transition and that it feels like “home.”

“The program I grew up in it gave a lot to me and provided me [with] a lot of wonderful, really great opportunities, and so coming back is a way of giving back to the community that brought me to where I am now,” Shiuan said.


Felder: English major transitions to music

When AP music theory teacher, John Felder, started college and was majoring in English, he had no idea he would later be pursuing a career in music.

Still, Felder had a passion for music ever since he young. He started taking piano lessons in third grade, joined percussion in middle school and wrote pieces for his high school band. However, after considering majoring in music, he ended up graduating with a degree in English.

Afterwards, he started teaching English and special education at Logan High, where he was also able to teach one additional music course. Felder was soon teaching the whole music program there, even though he didn’t have a degree in music.

After roughly a half dozen years at Logan High, Felder realized that he “really wanted to go in music and do something else.” He went to UC San Diego, where he earned a Ph.D in music composition. After finishing graduate school, Felder pursued a career in teaching music.

“I thought I would be a professor, but it was a really hard time for guys like me to get jobs,” Felder said. “I did get a lectureship, so I taught composition [and] music theory at UC Santa Cruz for six years, but I didn’t like it as much as teaching at high schools.”

Around the same time, there was an opening at Lynbrook High, which allowed Felder to start teaching music there.

“The music department at Lynbrook was horrible,” Felder said. “They hadn’t had a good teacher, so it was kind of like an animal house. It took a while and [a lot of hard work], but we eventually built a program that’s pretty terrific.”

At Lynbrook, Felder was able to do some composing, such as creating pieces for the orchestra. A few years later, Felder met Boitz and they became friends, which has allowed the orchestras and bands from Saratoga and Lynbrook to do exchange concerts and other mutual activities together.

But after teaching at Lynbrook for 18 years, Felder started to feel “weighed down” by the various logistical issues.

“When I retired [in June of 2011], I wanted to do other things, but I really missed teaching,” Felder said. “I didn’t miss the other parts, like dealing with all the equipment, scheduling, all those kind of headaches all of us have.”

It was only a year and a half ago that Felder started to teach here, where he has had more time to compose and prepare for his AP classes.

In addition, four years ago, Felder was designated a mentor teacher of California and has been offering help to younger teachers. Felder has also been in an adult band for 12 years.

Being a composer has greatly influenced Felder’s life; he hopes to be able to use his experience in composition to positively influence his students.

“As a composer, I could really get into how a piece works with different styles,” Felder said. “When you think creatively, you can apply that to other fields. I need that creative side; it’s just kind of like the air that I breathe.”


Ford designs the choir program

As a music teacher with a degree in interior design, choir and orchestra teacher Andrew Ford has found multiple benefits and overlaps between the two fields. For example, he was able to use his knowledge about interior design when planning the layouts of the new music building.  

But Ford knew that he had always had a liking for music, especially after playing in his high school band and orchestra. He continued his passion at West Valley College while also pursuing an interior design degree.

At West Valley, Ford joined the orchestra for a year and the Masterworks Chorale choir. After a couple of years, Ford transferred to San Jose State University to continue his studies of interior design, while also minoring in music.

As all of this was going on, Ford began taking jobs managing musicals and directing choirs and orchestras in a local church, which helped him pay for college.

“Music started to pay for my collegiate life,” Ford said. “But I told myself I still wouldn’t pursue it.”

After another year, Ford found himself double majoring in music education and interior design. He noticed that all of the opportunities he received had nothing to do with interior design, but rather pertained to music.

“I had just finished vocal directing my first show at Children’s Musical Theater of San Jose, and we put up a full-on musical,” Ford said. “It was opening night and I said ‘I love what I got to do here.’ I realized I needed to change my degree.”

Ford continued studying and when he was about to graduate, his old mentor suggested an open position at Saratoga that he would fit. After talking to our music administrators, Ford took the position.

“You can push something away as hard as you want, but if it is truly a part of you it will find a way to manifest you and become a part of your life,” Ford said. “And that was music for me.”


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