Band Man of the Year
Spectators at Santa Fe High School football games know well the smooth sounds and precision of Santa Fe’s marching band. Over the years the band has garnered dozens of honors and awards. The man behind the band, the Irishman that drives a Harley, is Santa Fe’s Director of Bands, Mike Lowery.
During his tenure as band director, Lowery’s written hundreds of unique, award-winning musical scores for Santa Fe’s marching band.
For 33 years Lowery has shared his love of music with thousands of students. He built the marching band program from the ground up. And then transformed it into a legacy likely to live on for generations to come.
From the dozens of former students that pursued music-related careers to the peers that continue to learn from their colleague, it's evident that Lowery's teachings reach far beyond the rehearsal room. He also teaches life lessons – lessons on punctuality, respect and pursing excellence. These are lessons Lowery hopes his students will pass on.
Lowery combines a devotion to music with a drive to succeed. It’s guided Lowery through life and extends into his classroom. He strongly believes that music is the only class where anything less than a 100 percent effort is less than acceptable.
“Mr. Lowery teaches us things in band that we can take on to do everything we do in life. We learn never to stop until it’s perfect,” says Senior Drum Major, Chuck Stewart, “In band we’re always striving for perfection, just like we should be doing in life.”
Stewart’s father, Buck, agrees. Two of his children benefited from Lowery’s leadership. His daughter, Kimberly, a junior at OSU, attributes much of her success to Lowery’s teachings. Buck’s youngest son, Chuck, continues to grow – as a musician and a person – during his second year as Drum Major. “This band program instills the desire in students to strive for perfection – not just in their music but in everything they do,” says Buck, “The band demonstrates excellence in everything it does. Mr. Lowery drives the students and the students meet the challenge.”
Rebecca Coleman, band director at Summit Middle School and Santa Fe, served as Lowery’s assistant during her early teaching years and says it was a fabulous learning experience. "He strongly influenced how I taught beginners. I quickly learned his motto: 'the best beginner teachers are the ones who know that they haven’t learned it all.' He taught me how to not only teach but also how to demand more from myself," Coleman says.
"Music is an activity where our worst student can’t be much different than our best student—which is different from other classes. If we come in one day and play a 92, we're not done. We have to come in the next day and hit a 93," Lowery says. "It's about striving for perfection. We don't give up until it's perfect."
Coleman says Lowery's greatest success is the fact that he has a "family of students and former students" that adores, reveres, and remembers him. "If he ever retires, we could have a room filled with former students from all over the world who became who they are because of who he is," Coleman adds. “He’s our own Mr. Holland, like in the movie 'Mr. Holland’s Opus'.”
Lowery played a bass trombone at his alma mater, Drury University in Missouri, where he also launched his teaching career. After eight years he moved to Oklahoma to serve as the Jazz Director at Edmond Memorial and in 1993 Lowery became Santa Fe High School's first band director. He's been a Wolf ever since.
Under his direction the band has excelled in competition, earning the Oklahoma Secondary School Association’s Sweepstakes Award each year and consistently reaching the Oklahoma Bandmaster Association finals. The band has traveled to London on five occasions to participate in the New Year's Parade and Festival and was recently extended a personal invitation by Queen Elizabeth's Deputy Lord Lieutenant, Bob Bramble, to participate in the 2009 festivities.
Lowery has been honored by the National Federation of State High Schools and served as executive chairperson for the Central Oklahoma Directors’ Association. He was also surprised last summer when he was named Oklahoma's Band Director of the Year at the Oklahoma Bandmaster's Annual Convention.
While Lowery cherishes the honors, even after three decades it’s the students that inspire him.
"It's 100 percent the kids that drive me. I've stuck with it because it's fun,” he says, “Someone asked me the other day when I’ll retire. I said when it's not fun anymore, but it’s fun. The kids are just great.”