Musical staff

Bluffs maestro strikes a chord and wins dismissed staff member of the year | Local News

Apparently Dan Black struck a chord with a few people.

The conductor of Abraham Lincoln High School and Kirn Middle School has been named Certified Staff Member of the Year for the Council Bluffs Community School District.

Black develops “positive and productive relationships with students” and creates an atmosphere of “mutual respect and trust,” according to the person who appointed him. Moreover, he is able to engage the students.

He created the Parent Orchestra event in which parents come to class and learn to play an instrument from their child.

“Students are at the center of his work and celebration, and it’s evident that Mr. Black truly cares, is passionate about his content, and is a highly skilled educator,” his nominator wrote.

He has developed ties with the Omaha Symphony, Omaha Area Youth Orchestra and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Music. In what’s called the Omaha Symphony Music Mentors program, members of the school’s symphony orchestra and orchestra sit on stage and play music from the student orchestra together, Black said.

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“This music mentor program is really good for kids,” he said. “We started this program.”

Black encourages students to participate in the Omaha Area Youth Orchestra.

“We usually have high school and college kids playing it every year,” he said.

Last year, students were split between home and school because of the pandemic, Black said. He created a project involving students writing their own music and recording it. The students worked in pairs.

“We released 10 albums just with the high school orchestra,” he said. “It turned out to be something that a lot of other music teachers latched onto as well,” he said.

The school used Soundtrack, a kid-friendly digital audio workstation, Black said. The music was shared via MP3s. He considered publishing it, but limited it to the school district’s Google platform and avoided social media to protect student privacy.

“I ended up doing documentation projects with kids,” he said. “They had to create video recordings of them playing their music.”

Black then presented nationally and published a 2021 article for School Band and Orchestra magazine about creating a label to showcase student work for Little Kids Rock.

“Thanks to Mr. Black’s caring personality, skillful relationship building, and growing promotion of the orchestra program, his classes are growing and enrollment in the district orchestra program is at an all-time high.” record,” wrote its proponent. “In fact, the ropes program at Kirn and ALHS will reach over 100 more students a day than when it started five years ago.”

Black grew up around music and took it with him. He played clarinet in a band and sang in a high school choir. He also played the piano from an early age and later took up the guitar.

“My family is very musical and it’s always been a part of my life,” he said.

Black’s three brothers were involved in music growing up but did not pursue careers teaching music. He wanted to teach music so “I could create a better story than what I experienced,” he said.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of Northern Iowa. His first teaching job was as conductor for students in grades 6 through 12 in Springville, where he remained for three years. He also taught in Nebraska City, Nebraska for one year and in Red Oak for five years.

Black “loved teaching at Red Oak” but decided to get a master’s degree in school leadership from UNI.

“I thought I was going to be a manager or do something new in music education,” he said. “At the time, I thought management was where everything was going. I have a lot of fun thinking about new approaches.

Black was a board member of the Music Education Association and a member of the National Association for Music Education and the Iowa Alliance for Arts Education and helped develop new fine arts standards for the state of Iowa.

In the end, music education won out.

“Being a director is a job that takes everything,” Black said. “I decided that there was still work to be done in the field of arts education and I was made for this work.

“I love teaching orchestra at Council Bluffs,” he said. “It’s because, in an orchestra, we get to talk about music in a really cool way. I love teaching at Council Bluffs just because I’m so well supported to be an innovative educator.