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Jackson, MI band director one of 400+ alums teaching ‘more than music’ in classrooms across the state

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JACKSON, Mich.—When Bryan Mangiavellano decided to pursue a career in conducting and music education, he imagined leading a large collegiate marching band one day. 

Accepting his first job as director of bands at Northwest High School in Jackson 16 years ago was supposed to be the first in a series of steps that would get him there. 

“It really wasn’t long before I realized that I was exactly where I was supposed to be,” said Mangiavellano, a euphonium player who earned his master’s in music education from the University of Michigan in 2011. “I love teaching music to kids, and I love to see the effects of that reflected in both their musicianship and who they become as people.”

“Mr. M” is one of more than 400 U-M alumni currently at the helm of hundreds of elementary, middle and high school music classrooms across the state of Michigan. 

The ‘Marching Mounties’ are well known in the region for both their degree of excellence and for their signature mountie uniforms. The band has been a staple in the community for more than 50 years as part of Northwest Community Schools, which is geographically one of the largest districts in the state of Michigan because of the vast rural area it covers.

Bryan Mangiavellano has been the band director at Northwest High School in Jackson, MI for 16 years. Photo by Eric Bronson.

In addition to his duties in directing the 140-member marching band, Mangiavellano also directs the high school’s jazz band, teaches beginner guitar classes, and assists in teaching beginning brass players from 6th through 8th grade at Northwest Middle School. Each day, more than 250 kids come through his classroom doors.

“He’s so much more than just a band director,” said Logan Frewen, a former student and now a junior double majoring in jazz studies and music education at U-M. “Mr. M was invaluable to my development as a musician and as an educator—what he really taught me was how to develop relationships with my students.”

Frewen, also a Michigan Marching band member who works with several drumlines at area high schools, including at Northwest, gave his mentor a nickname nearly five years ago that can still be heard in the Northwest band classroom today.

“My friend Zack and I started calling him ‘dad’ one day—it was an ode to his ‘dad jokes,’ but also a meaningful nickname that describes how a lot of people feel about him as the honorary head of the marching band family,” he said. 

Charis Cumings, senior drum major for the Northwest Marching Band. Photo by Eric Bronson.

Charis Cumings, current senior drum major for the Northwest Marching Band, agrees.

“Mr. M is a father figure to many of us—he expects a lot of us and wants us to be good, and it is fun when you’re good,” said Cumings, who hopes to pursue a career in music. “But one of the reasons people love and respect him so much is because of his role as a mentor. During my most difficult times in high school, I could just stop by his office and talk to him—he’s such a great listener.”

“He really is the ‘dad’ of the band,” said Elijah Haldane, a Northwest sophomore who plays tenor drums. “He has so many students and he makes time for each one. He’s always checked up on me and asks me how I’m doing, and that means a lot to me.”

Though U-M boasts one of the oldest music education programs in the country, Mangiavellano began a graduate program in 2007 that was relatively new at the time. Designed specifically for working professional educators, the Master of Music in music education offers teachers the opportunity to complete the program over the course of three summer semesters.

“U-M has a wonderful program with great professors who are at the top of their field—Dr. Conway, Dr. Fitzpatrick, Dr. Skadsem—these were people that I knew would challenge me to think deeply about music ed,” Mangiallevano said. “They really got into the ‘why’ of what we do as teachers.”

Colleen Conway, professor of music education at the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance, says that the program launched in 2004 and has become one of the most popular in-state master’s programs for music teachers. 

“What’s really unique and attractive about U-M is that we have a high-quality music education department at a top performing arts school, which also happens to be at a leading research university,” she said.

The 'Marching Mounties' halftime show performance at Northwest High School in Jackson, MI on Oct. 25, 2019. Photo by Eric Bronson.
The 'Marching Mounties' in the stands at Northwest High School in Jackson, MI during the Oct. 25, 2019 football game. Photo by Eric Bronson.
The Northwest High School 'Marching Mounties' play during a home football game in Jackson, MI on Oct. 25, 2019. Photo by Eric Bronson.
Students prepare for their last home performance Northwest High School in Jackson, MI on Oct. 25, 2019. Photo by Eric Bronson.
Students at Northwest High School head out to practice their halftime show performance. Photo by Eric Bronson.
"Mr. M" works with the drumline at Northwest High School in Jackson, MI. Photo by Eric Bronson.
David Zielinkski, trumpet player in the Northwest Marching Band. Photo by Eric Bronson.
Band class at Northwest High School in Jackson, MI. Photo by Eric Bronson.
Khrystine Weesner, saxophone play in the Northwest Marching Band. Photo by Eric Bronson.

“We get a lot of students like Bryan, who really want to learn how to be better teachers. He is an example of someone who has a bigger vision, he just gets it—as in, yes, we really want to have the best-sounding ensemble that we can, but that’s not really the end goal.”

Mangiallevano says that the last 16 years in the classroom have changed his longview.

“In the beginning of my career, I might have told you that my goal would have been to create lifelong musicians through education, and I know this sounds cliche, but what I really want for them now is for them to be good people,” he said.

“My hope is that band has instilled enough work ethic and discipline, so that when they go off to become doctors, lawyers, electricians or welders, that they know how to put in the hard work to be successful in whatever they decide to do.”