A Surprise for GRAMMY-Nominated Band Director Jared Cassedy

October 17, 2014

by Jillian DiPersio, Windham High School Intern

The Town of Windham has known for 10 years just what an extraordinary person and educator Jared Cassedy, director of Fine Arts for the Windham School District, is. Now Cassedy’s individual achievements are being recognized on the national level as on Friday, Sept. 26, the CBS Morning News announced Cassedy had moved forward into the top-25 semi-finalists for the Music Educator Award, presented by the Recording Academy and the GRAMMY Foundation. In order to celebrate this achievement, Windham High School Principal Ryan Kaplan, along with WHS Concert Band parents, students, district administrators and faculty, threw a surprise party for Cassedy on Friday, Oct. 3.

Kaplan and his team strategically planned the surprise to take place during Cassedy’s Concert Band period. School administrators kept him busy in an “urgent meeting” at the SAU. Cassedy kept trying to leave, but as he later reported, the administrators at the SAU would simply say, “No it’s fine, it’s fine; I’ve got something to tell you!” Cassedy, always extraordinarily punctual, was more than a little concerned.

Meanwhile, students, parents, faculty, and staff were decorating the band room with balloons and streamers and setting up a potluck lunch. Kaplan kept his phone close by, waiting for the call from the SAU that Cassedy was on his way. When the call came, the room went silent, the lights went off and everyone gathered by the door. Cassedy entered to raucous applause as his face lit up in pure disbelief, repeating over and over “this is ridiculous, oh my God.” In an impromptu speech he told everyone present, “I can’t even believe this right now. I am beyond psyched and you make every day here worth it.” He added, “Hopefully December (when the top 10 finalists and winner are announced) will come around and it’ll work out, but, regardless, I feel like I am the luckiest person and band director ever.”

Kaplan went on to explain to the crowd that Jared Cassedy was one of 7,000 nominees for this award. The award is open to music educators across the United Sates, from kindergarten through college. Kaplan told the audience that he remembered “last year coming into the auditorium while the band was performing and immediately getting chills listening to you all perform under Mr. Cassedy’s direction.” He commented that, hearing the band perform last year at Carnegie Hall for the National Band and Orchestra Festival “thinking there could be no more significant opportunity for a high school band.” However, he remarked, this was before news had broken that the WHS Concert Band had been accepted as one of eight bands in the nation to attend the Music for All National Festival, which the band will be performing in March of 2015. He called Cassedy “the one man who continually puts this band from small-town Windham, New Hampshire, on the national stage.”

Diane DiPersio, a band parent who has had three of her children work with Cassedy and was Kaplan’s “go-to person” for planning the event, read a speech written by Dr. Andrew Boysen, Jr., professor of Music at the University of New Hampshire and one of Cassedy’s mentors. Boysen called Cassedy, “a kind, thoughtful, intelligent, incredibly hard-working, and insanely energetic teacher. He loves his students and always wants to create opportunities for them. He is absolutely the kind of teacher we in the profession all wish we could be.”

DiPersio was followed by Steve Plocharczyk, the man who hired Cassedy as the Windham Middle School Band director when Plocharczyk was principal of the school. He said that at the time they were hiring for the position, “we were in need of a band teacher, someone that could put together a program that had quite frankly suffered a bit. So what we were looking for was an experienced educator. He was young, no experience, and when I looked at the resume you know I said ‘there’s promise here.’”

The first thing he noticed was Cassedy’s incredible enthusiasm. At the time, Plocharczyk’s largest concern was that such a young teacher would not be able to manage middle school students, “which is sort of like herding cats,” he said. Yet, Cassedy managed. “He established early on a routine, expectations, all of those things … And within (two years), the program, which was a mediocre program, became an amazing one,” Plocharczyk explained. When Windham High School was built, Cassedy took on the position of band director at the high school. In jest, Plocharczyk says, “He didn’t become this good all by himself. I hired him.” He continued, in seriousness, “He was able to prosper because of this community.”

Christina Raymond, parent of Windham High School graduate, Timothy, took the floor from there. She and Timothy had nominated Cassedy for the award last year. Raymond’s father made her aware of the award after seeing it presented on TV. “This is my dad, who has come to every concert, from sixth grade on,” said Raymond. “I thought that was kind of a unique perspective, and of course talking to Timmy, it was hands down absolutely we’re going to do this. And the rest is sort of history.”

Marty Claussen, band director at Salem High School, and Cassedy’s high school band director, was also invited to speak at the event. To give the students perspective on what kind of person Cassedy was in high school, he asked a series of questions. “Is he super-organized?” “Is he always on time?” “Is he a good conductor?” “When you’re walking down the hallway, and he sees you, can he tell just by the look on your face if you’re having a bad day? Can he sense that and say hey, let’s talk about it?”

All of these questions, the students at WHS answered affirmatively: according to Claussen, Cassedy has not changed much since high school. He left the students with this message: “You are super lucky because this is a person that 20 years from now, for most of you, it might not make that big a difference if you know how to finger a note or if you know how to set your embouchure, or what the proper hand movement for a flam is or something, those things, he uses music as a tool because he teaches you life. That is what this man does.”

Students then had the chance to get up and speak, and their sentiments were just as heartfelt as those previously spoken. Drew Hutchings, a junior at WHS, said, “Music for me is just kind of magical and what Mr. Cassedy does is he takes something and he inspires you to do it. And he inspires me to do magical things. If you can inspire magic, that is just something so crazy.”

Cierra Cowan, another junior, tells the story when “I was having the worst day that I’ve had in a while and at the end of the day I came into the band room and I just starting having a conversation with him, and all of a sudden, I was having a good day.”

Freshman Leo Ducharme was the last to speak, opening with “I’ve been here about a month,” and going on to express his joy that Cassedy “is a perfect teacher for me. I’ve started playing tuba for about a month, granted I’m not as good as the other tuba players, but he’s really helped me out.”

Cassedy is an incredible asset to the Windham High School music program and the community wishes him the best of luck going forward. Cassedy is not only a fantastic band director, “he’s also a really good friend” said WHS junior Kaley Missert.

“Even if he doesn’t make it further in the GRAMMY’s, he’s won in Windham,” added Cowan.