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Jim Koch - Class of 2020

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Grateful and humbled to be considered for the Phi Beta Mu’s Texas Bandmaster Hall of Fame, Jim Koch is convinced that being a band director is the best profession in the world! Band directors are blessed to be allowed to work with people’s most precious treasure . . . their children - and then they get to make music with them! He believes the most important thing that directors do is to make students feel good about who they are. Band directors help students learn life skills such as cooperation, teamwork, setting goals and working to achieve them, being a good leader (or follower), and much more. Jim always treasured the determined look on band students’ faces when they were giving each other their very best … whether performing on stage, in rehearsal, or on the marching band field. He especially thanks all the students who shared band with him over the many years. Jim also thanks his family, fellow teachers, mentors, colleagues, and friends for their support on this great journey of life, music and band directing.

Jim Koch was born on October 1, 1954, in Houston, Texas. His parents, Jimmy and Marian Koch, provided a loving and supportive family for Jim, his older sister Cindy, and younger brother Tim. When extended family gathered to celebrate Christmas, feast on turkey, and sing carols, Uncle Louie would always play “The Old Gray Mare” on trombone.  Jim was so inspired by Uncle Louie’s rendition that he couldn’t wait to join the Garden Villas Elementary Band in fourth grade. Mr. Len Manno, Jim’s first band director and a string bassist in the Houston Symphony, agreed that Jim’s arms were long enough to play trombone. By mid-year, Jim was marching around the room at PTA meetings playing Dixieland trombone parts. In sixth grade, Jim joined the Houston All-City Band under the director of Michael Spampinato (who had also been his mother’s orchestra teacher) and continued to play with the group the next six years.

Jim graduated from Houston’s Ross Sterling High School in 1973. He was co-valedictorian, earning a Jesse Jones Scholarship which enabled him to go to North Texas State University. He completed his Bachelor of Music Education in 1977. Jim went back to NTSU during the summers to play racquetball with friends, and he eventually earned a Master of Music Education in 1982.

At the age of thirty, Jim brushed up on his trombone and played every church cantata in town. He succeeded in finding his future bride, Kaelyn Cook, singing in a church choir. Jim convinced her to change the way she spelled “Cook” and they were married November 22, 1986, on the only weekend of the fall that band directors weren’t working. Principal Gene Marcum tried hard to find a way to give Jim two extra days off for their honeymoon. He came up with sick days for mental illness… as Jim was marrying an Aggie! Jim is appreciative that Kaelyn attended every concert, marching contest, football game, and all other band events while also pursuing her career in Research & Development at Dow Chemical.

Kaelyn and Jim are very proud of their two sons. Both played in the Brazoswood Band program and made the TMEA All-State groups three times. Kelby is a band director in Dickinson ISD. He recently opened a new school, Kranz Junior High, and his band placed third in Area Band Competition. He also freelances on trumpet in the Houston area. Kelton is a trombonist in the Vienna State Opera and the Vienna Philharmonic. He has also performed with the Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, New World, Cologne, and London Symphonies. He was a member of the Zurich Opera before his present appointment and recently received a Special Prize at the XVI International Tchaikovsky Competition in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Jim’s career started at Brazosport High School in 1977 where he was an assistant for four years. He worked with George Mitchell who was a great mentor and like a second dad. In 1981, Jim moved across the district to Brazoswood High School and was an assistant for three years. He assisted Rod Cannon who had a way of making band fun while also striving for greatness. When the staff wasn’t doing band, Rod had the team fishing, bird hunting, and even oystering in the bays. When Rod left to teach at Sam Houston State University, Jim assisted Bill Brawn who had actually been Rod’s high school band director.

In 1984 at the age of twenty-nine, Jim became the Director of Bands at Brazoswood High School and held that position for twenty-six years. One of the first—and best—things that Jim did in this role was to invite a new Sam Houston State University graduate, Brian Casey, to join the Brazoswood band staff. This was the beginning of a lifelong professional collaboration and dear friendship as they collaborated side by side to run the Brazoswood band program. As young directors, Jim and Brian were fortunate to have Bill Gottschalk, an experienced former head director, to assist and advise. During Jim’s last thirteen years of teaching, he was also blessed to work with percussion educator Eric Harper. Eric’s teaching earned the Brazoswood percussionists the honor of being the feature performers at PASIC three times.

While their time with the Buc Band may have been for fewer years, Jim also greatly appreciated the contributions and impact of many other staff members including Jeff Schultz, Bernard Rosenberg, Joanna Stevens Sargent, Jennifer Hawken, Carrie Harper, Jennifer Alcocer, Sam Woodfield, and Amy Walden Laney. Jim considers himself extremely lucky to have taught alongside these friends and educators. In addition, Jim is very appreciative of the junior high band staff and feeder program. Jim always said there is nothing like going to work and seeing your
best friends every day.

Jim is also extremely thankful for the extraordinary help provided by the band parents for so many years. The Brazoswood Band Booster organization started Jim’s first year at Brazoswood. The organization and the support they provided steadily increased over the years. In his last year of teaching, over eighty parents volunteered to chaperon on the thirteen band buses, at the weekly football games, and at marching contests. In addition, other parents managed uniforms, loaded trucks, provided nourishment, planned parties, ran fundraisers and much more! It was no trouble at all for the Brazoswood Band Boosters to feed over 300 students at a marching contest in a short period of time.

The Brazoswood band consistently earned UIL sweepstakes during Jim’s tenure. The Brazoswood Symphonic Band was chosen to advance to Area Honor Band competition eight times and to State Honor Band competition five times. The Brazoswood Symphonic Band won the UIL State Wind Ensemble Contest in 1994 and 1998 when it was a competitive event. When the event became a festival, every student in the Brazoswood Symphonic Band won a UIL Outstanding Soloist medal in 2000 and 2006. Only two schools have earned that honor. Brazoswood also won various festivals such as the Six Flags Open Festival in Dallas and the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C.

The Brazoswood Marching Band attended its first UIL Marching Contest when Jim joined the staff and helped chart the show. The Brazoswood Buccaneer Band earned 29 consecutive first divisions in marching while Jim was involved. The Brazoswood Marching Band attended the UIL State Marching Band Contest seven times, finishing seventh twice and always placing in the top fourteen bands. During the last eight years of Jim’s career, Brazoswood won UIL Area Marching Contest twice and came in second twice. Brazoswood performed in the finals at Bands of America Regional contests fourteen times and the finals in the San Antonio Super Regional Contest five of the six times they attended. Twice Brazoswood won the Outstanding Music caption and placed in the top three positions. Brazoswood also won various regional marching contests such as the Lone Star Preview which they won four consecutive times just prior to Jim’s retirement.

Brazoswood had two jazz band classes during Jim’s tenure at Brazoswood. The PM Jazz Band was a consistent winner of jazz festivals around the state. They won the
DownBeat award. Just as important, the jazz students experienced being gigging musicians as they performed for many community events such as the Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, Hospital Association, SIDS Foundation, and many others.

Jim believed that to have a great band, you needed to develop great individual musicians. All 300 plus members of the Brazoswood band performed an accompanied solo at UIL Solo and Ensemble Contest. All students were helped one-on-one by a staff member. In addition, all students were responsible to learn at least the freshman cut for All-Region Band auditions. Emphasis was put on helping students individually learn the TMEA All-State etudes. Typically, Brazoswood would have about fifty students in the All-Region Band.

Jim served on the TMEA State Board for eighteen years and was the treasurer/secretary for UIL Region 17.

Though he wanted to teach for many more years, Jim’s hearing gradually declined, and in 2010 he retired after thirty-three years of teaching. To serve the district that had employed him for his entire career, Jim successfully ran for the Brazosport ISD School Board and eventually became the president. Competitive teacher pay, updating technology, and replacing aging schools were his priorities while on the board.

The Brazoswood Band commissioned Martin Ellerby, one of Jim’s favorite composers, to write a piece in his honor. Jim’s great friend, Brian Casey, conducted the Brazoswood Symphonic Band in the premiere of “A Man for All Seasons” during a special concert in 2014. The Brazoswood Band Parents even flew Mr. Ellerby to Texas from England to be at the event. Jim will forever be appreciative of this generous tribute!

Jim sincerely thanks Phi Beta Mu and the Hall of Fame Committee for this wonderful honor.

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