Geneseo band director Steve Scherer to retire

Claudia Loucks
Steve Scherer

Steve Scherer has remained “a band kid” through his entire life, right up to his retirement at the end of the recent school year as band director at Geneseo High School.

He was raised on a farm in Metamora and said he was taught many good values from that upbringing.

“I loved my town growing up and had great experiences at Metamora Grade School and high school. When I was a sophomore, I was enjoying my experiences in band so much that I had the realization that if I became a band director, I could remain a band kid through my entire career, and it worked. I have the same attitude about the band kid concept that I did when I was in high school. It’s a very good state of mind.”

After 43 years Scherer is stepping down as a band director, but plans to continue to be involved with music…”I plan to receive training to become a certified piano technician with the Piano Technicians Guild,” he said, and that retirement plans also include “Fun with family, to include our first grandson Adler. And home improvement projects, there are many that have taken a back seat to being a high school band director.”

Scherer was drawn to music in his childhood and said when he and his brother each received a Panasonic tape recorder for Christmas; he was fascinated with the technology “so I was recording all kinds of sounds for fun. The next year we received a portable record player and two 45rpm records each. I would listen and marvel at how realistic the tones of each instrument sounded. At the end of fifth grade, when we could try out instruments for band starting the next school year, I knew I wanted to play one. I chose drums ad percussion. I never stopped playing and still play today.”

He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education in 1985 from Western Illinois University, Macomb, and a Master’s Degree from the University of Illinois in 2001. His first teaching job was in Bedford, Ind.

“Then I took an adventurous break from teaching and moved to Austin, Texas, to play and tour professionally in a rock band, “he said.

He returned to teaching in Evansville, Ind., and then in Highland, Ind., near Chicago.

Nine years later he and his family moved to Geneseo to raise their family. Geneseo is his wife Jane (Neuleib) Scherer’s hometown.

That move was 26 years ago and Scherer first taught beginning band in Pleasant Valley, Iowa, for a year, before becoming the Director of Bands at Rock Island High School.

In 2002, his predecessor in Geneseo, Victor Bianchetta, retired, and Scherer applied for the position and was hired.

“I’ve almost always been in a position to teach the full array of bands – concert band, marching band, jazz band, pep band, musical pit orchestra, steel drum band, and even orchestra when I was in Evansville,” he said.

When asked about changes during his tenure of teaching, Scherer said, “There have been many. The role of technology in the music classroom is probably the biggest one. When I started teaching, each student had to write down their marching coordinates for each set in the entire show….When I started teaching we would tape up each page of the drill that had been created in order on the walls around the band room. Students then walked along in sequence of pages, found their position in each set and wrote down their coordinated. If they made a mistake, it affected the band. If they lost or forgot to bring their drill book, it affected the band. That was in 1986.”

Eventually, a computer program was used to print coordinate sheets for each student and Scherer said even though that was “much better, but there were still issues with forgotten or lost materials. A few years ago, we went to a paperless system with marching band. Every student on the field has their cell phone or an iPod with an app that has our marching drill. They can get more information that ever from that app – their drill coordinates, graphic depiction of themselves and the students around them, animation of the drill to see how they are supposed to move, and many other features. It’s incredible.”

Scherer also commented on the changes in communication with students and parents and said, “Thanks to all of the secure systems for communication, if I need to exchange information with students or parents, I can do so immediately simply by using my phone.”

The retiring director was asked to share some memories and he said, “There are many. The best have been those occasions when everyone in the band was emotionally connected at the same time through the music. That is to say, on the rare occasion that every person happens to give their best performance, their personal best, at the same time. It happened in the early 2000s when the Honors Band performed at the University of Illinois Super state Band Festival. The performance was so intense and inspired. At the end I looked around the group and on every student’s face was a look of shock, euphoria, tears, or a combination of those. Me too. Most people go their entire life without an opportunity to have an experience like that.”

He also mentioned the awards ceremonies at marching band competitions and said, “The Geneseo marching band, known as The Sound of Geneseo, or TSOG, has been very successful at competitions,” he said. “I would position myself somewhere that I could see the entire band (and parents) sitting together in the bleachers. On the occasions that Geneseo was announced as first place in their class, or grand champions overall, they would explode in celebration. Keeping in mind the hundreds of hours of hard work that led to that moment. I loved watching them explode in celebration, enjoying the flood of emotions and excitement that they had earned. Those few seconds of seeing the students that happy and that unified certainly qualify as ‘favorite memories’.”

Scherer also complimented his predecessor and said, “The Geneseo band program was excellent before I started. It was my first teaching job that was not a ‘rebuild’ situation.’ One of my core beliefs is that if a band sounds great on the concert state, they are likely to sound great on the field. So, I always saw the Honors Band and Concert Band as the fundamental strength of the program. Over the years we have built our achievements on the daily use of fundamental exercises and the careful cultivation of fundamental skills.”

The director aloes made gradual changes over the years to a more current form of marching band design….”Through these endeavors the bands have become known throughout the State of Illinois as a role model program, especially with regard to the size of the school. Our small-town high school students have all of the potential and are every bit as talented and capable as students in a big school with an enrollment of two or three thousand.”

He mentioned some of the accomplishments that he is proud of including the Citations of Excellence from the National Band Association…”The Honors Band has performed twice at the Illinois Music Education Conference and in 2019, we were recognized as a Best Community for Music Education by the National Association of Music Merchants; in 2020, the Honors Band received the National Band Association Blue Ribbon of Excellence Award for the North Central Davison; also in 2020, the Honors Band was invited to perform at the Music For All National Concert Festival. In January, the Illinois Chapter of the Phi Beta Mu presented me with The Bandmaster of the Year Award for the State of Illinois.”

And when asked what he will miss the most, Scherer was quick to answer, “The students. The band is the only course of study where we are able to work with the same students through all four years of high school. That along with the activities outside of the school day allows us to get to know the students quite well, and to see them through all of the stages of high school. And that is a different experience for each individual. By the time they graduate it’s always difficult to see them go. The other thing I will miss, of course, is the exhilaration of being on the podium in front of the Honors Band in rehearsals and performances. There are so many moments of excellence that simply cannot happen without all of the circumstances being right.”

He said his most “important career thank you” is to his wife, Jane…”It is very challenging to be married to a high school band director, so this retirement includes her in a big way.”

The couple has three adult children, Allison and Diana, both in Geneseo; a son, Jack, Chicago; and one grandson, Adler.