When Brandi Jason learned she would be named Carroll County Teacher of the Year, the news couldn’t have come at a busier time of year for the instrumental music director.
Jason, who is in her 15th year at Liberty High School, has spent the time since the April 25 announcement in concert mode. Patriotic Pops, which features all of the 200-plus students in the department as well as guest artists, is Friday, May 3.
More than 700 community members are expected to attend.
On Wednesday, when the Times caught up with Jason, she was starting rehearsal with the 34-piece Jazz Ensemble. The students filed in after the bell and started setting up the stage, chatting a little bit and making the general din that comes with musicians warming up their instruments.
Jason put on her earpiece microphone so she could be heard. There was a brief discussion about props for one number, but then they were off, playing straight through a layered, jazzy version of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” that sounded mostly polished to the untrained ear.
After they finish, Jason gave the students notes. She was correcting them Wednesday because it will be too late by Friday, she said.
“This has to be hot and tasty Friday night,” she says. “You have to have fun with it.”
Part way through the rehearsal, Brad Collins arrived. He is the featured guest tenor saxophone with the Jazz Ensemble during Patriotic Pops and the instrumental music teacher at William Winchester and Linton Springs Elementary.
The concert will be a generational affair. Collins was Jason’s instrumental music teacher when she was in high school at South Carroll. Glenn Patterson, who will join the concert with vocals, was in turn Collins’ instructor.
When Jason was nominated for Teacher of the Year, the selection committee asked her to write and essay about a teacher at any level of her education who had affected her. She wrote about Collins.
“That essay just flowed for me,” she said.
“I had some great professors on college. But they just won't take you under their wing like your high school band director does. I mean, that person is in the trenches with you, pushing you when you don't believe in yourself.”
Collins understands that kind of influence. Patterson was the one who introduced him to the jazz idiom and being “the right person at the right time in your life.”
He wasn’t surprised to see Jason win the county award, but very proud — as he has been for many of her successes at Liberty.
“The thing that stands out about her is her willingness to get things right. She will challenge herself to the utmost,” he said. Even when she was a student, he said she showed a mix of kindness and the ability to roll up her sleeves and be decisive.
Practicing with the band for the Patriotic Pops concert, he noticed “how much she commands out of the students.” He was impressed by their talent and respectfulness.
“You can see it and hear it in that performance. I hope younger musicians attend … and see that spirit and what it serves for the community.”
For Jason, the award was a surprise. She’ll need to wait until after Patriotic Pops — and two other concerts and an honors society induction before the end of May — to really take it all in.
“I think more people in this building thought I was a contender for that than I did. Because there's so many awesome teachers,” she said.
It is not the first time she has been recognized for her teaching. She’s been a nominee for the CCPS teacher of the year every year since 2006 and been a finalist three times.
In 2019, she was one of nine finalists from throughout the country for the GRAMMY Music Educator Award, and has been a semifinalist on three separate occasions.
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Liberty High School Principal Kenneth Goncz contributed a letter of recommendation to Jason’s application. She said administration is supportive of the music program.
He wrote: “She is a master teacher who stretches her students to achieve excellence. Her ability to motivate and inspire students and guide them toward success serves as a model for our students, and her unwavering dedication is admirable. It is hard to overstate the positive impact Brandi has had and continues to have on Liberty High School.”
Jason is touched when parents and students take their own time to fill out nominations for her.
“I'm always grateful that somebody out there felt that I was doing something that deserve some recognition or appreciated what I was doing,” she said.
For her, the instrumental music program, from students to parent boosters, is like a family.
“The instrumental music room is where all of our kiddos hang out, in the morning, after school,” she said. “When they could go home, they don't get in their cars necessarily. They come here and they rendezvous with each other and then they go home.
“Just to be down here, just to be practicing, to be making music with friends jamming out, it's really important to them.”