Midland group manager hangs up the baton

Known for his Hawaiian shirts and his enthusiasm for Disney, William “Bill” Monroe became a respected teacher at Midland High School. This year, the Midland Group Principal retires after a 30 year career with Midland Public Schools.

“It was a very good race. I was really lucky, ”said Monroe.

Monroe studied music theory composition at Michigan State University, eventually adding a second major in music education. After envisioning a career as a concert pianist and composer, Monroe decided to embark on the field of education.

“I discovered while working at the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp that I really love children. I thought, “I really love music and I really love kids, and I can do this teaching thing,” ”Monroe said.

Unfortunately, by the time Monroe graduated, Michigan’s economy was taking a serious hit. He heard that Texas was the place to go to find a job, so he taught music for two years in Iowa Park, Texas, then two years in Irving, Texas. Monroe took a year to complete his Masters in Music Education and Performance at North Texas State University and returned to Michigan where he found another job in the Battle Creek area. Monroe worked there for four years but was not happy with his professional situation.

“I was looking to quit teaching or look for something else, then Midland opened up. It was perfect, ”he said.

When Monroe began teaching at Midland High in 1991, the group’s program was limited to 10e-12e and consisted of 78 students. Under Monroe’s leadership, the group expanded to encompass all ranks and reached up to 256 members; the group currently has 215 instrumentalists.

“The pandemic has put a cold towel on things. It will take energy to get it back, but it will come back, ”said Monroe.

The Midland High Orchestras program includes three concert bands, two to three jazz groups led by assistant director Christopher O’Connell, a marching band that includes members from all concert bands, and a volunteer marching band. In recent years, Monroe has created chamber choirs where each instrument section has its own group of musicians. The students tell Monroe what music they want to play and learn the music themselves with the help of the section leaders.

“When we do that kind of thing, the group really gets better. You have students teaching other students and helping each other, ”Monroe said.

In addition to performing at concerts, sports games, and taking part in Solo Ensemble festivals, the Midland High Band participates in the local Marching Band Showcase, presenting different exercises and tunes centered around a particular theme. Monroe helps prepare the children by hosting a music camp before the start of the school year.

“It’s something that really makes the kids feel comfortable participating in the program. This is where they learn the fundamentals, ”said Monroe. “This is where they first learn to be a (group) family because the most important thing we have here is a family atmosphere. They know that if we all care about each other, we can push each other.

Another unique feature of the Midland High Band that Monroe has perpetuated is to have the students go up as they walk. While most bands tend to adopt a stride style, which Monroe explained, it is easier for the instrumentalists to play and tends to enhance the sound of the music, the high pitch gives an aura of energy and distinguishes the Midland Marching Band from other schools.

Monroe also contributed to the school group by designing a new uniform upon his arrival. He explained that Midland’s uniform originally had a shorter cape and a blue and gold “M” on the front. Monroe decided to take the ‘M’ off the front and place it over a longer, reversible gold and blue cape.

“I wanted that golden cape because I wanted a flash of color when the group turned around. It’s white and blue on one side and – bam! – gold on the other when they turn around. It shocks you a bit, ”Monroe said.

The kids will be the biggest aspect that Monroe will miss when he retires. Some of his fondest memories revolve around the group trips to Disney that the Midland and Dow High groups take every three years. Monroe and Dow Group Director Steve DeReese started the tradition over 15 years ago to provide a unique experience for students and strengthen the good relationship between rival schools.

“I am very fortunate that the community is so interested, that we have had great support from parents and the kids are so interested. The kids were really successful, which is why I loved it so much, ”said Monroe. “The administrative support has been great here. I was very lucky to have all of this. When all the pieces are there and everyone is pulling in the same direction, we can do great things.

Monroe has seen more than a dozen marriages stemming from relationships that started as part of the group’s program. In 2017, Monroe was even invited to officiate the wedding of a trombone and clarinet player who met in his orchestral class in 1999. He plans to officiate another wedding this summer, stating that it’s a wonderful feeling to be a part of your students’ lives after they graduate.

Monroe’s office is filled with memories of current and past students. Part of its wall is covered with portraits of senior leaders and trinkets given to it by elders. As his last day at Midland High approaches, the students stop to say goodbye to him and give him a final gift or two.

“I get stuff from kids on a daily basis now,” Monroe said.

The group director position will be held by Eric Attard, who has worked with the Jefferson Middle School and Dow High School groups. Monroe explained how Attard is another bass trombonist and wears crazy diamond socks, just like Monroe prefers Hawaiian shirts.

“He’s full of energy. I think he’s going to be amazing, ”Monroe said.

Monroe looks forward to traveling in retirement, visiting family and former students along the way. As he continues to meet elders in town, there are many spread across the country from Texas to Virginia, even one in Scotland.

“I would love to see my former students again because they become my friends. I have the best kids in the whole school, one of the best schools in the whole country. They turn out to be great people and they are my friends, ”said Monroe.


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