After 17 years teaching and filling the EMS community with music, Brian Buchanan — also known affectionately as “Mr. B.” — decided to leave EMS. He now works at Dominion Data Group near his home in Staunton as vice president of fulfillment and logistics. He is also working on new music and hopes to continue to play gigs once the music industry can operate safely.
Through his years at EMS, Buchanan taught a variety of classes including; middle school band, high school orchestra, jazz ensemble, digital recording, set building, wood working, tech ed club, and car care. Through those classes, he touched the lives of hundreds of EMS music and art students. He also led numerous E-Terms to Nashville, and took students to state and national instrumental and tech ed competitions.
Buchanan graduated from Eastern Mennonite University in 2003 and learned of the open band position at EMS through one of his professors. While he didn’t know much about the school at the time, he accepted the offer nonetheless. “I vividly remember thinking, ‘What am I doing here?’ sitting in my truck my first year of teaching. However, teaching at EMS taught me about myself, what my limits are, and patience.”
With the variety of ages coming through his classes, Buchanan was able to watch students grow and mature, not only from a musical standpoint, but also a personal one. He recounts his favorite, and most meaningful memory from his time here. “I will always remember the birthday party a certain 8th grade band group gave me a couple years back. It was one of the nicest and unexpected things any group had done for me.”
“Passing the baton”
While Mr. Buchanan will be sorely missed by students and faculty alike, he is passing his baton over to Nick Gardner, who is well suited and prepared for the role. Gardner attended Spotswood High School before attending James Madison University where he played in the JMU Marching Royal Dukes, as well as in other bands and orchestras, musical pits, chamber music groups, and three opera orchestra pits (La Boheme, Barber of Seville, and Cosi fan Tutte). A 2016 JMU graduate, he has expertise in both oboe and percussion.
“The first year of teaching is notoriously difficult for any educator, and you could not have designed a more challenging set of circumstances than this year,” notes Justin King, high school principal. “But Nick has not only jumped into the year, he has embraced the hurdles of making music during COVID.”
Gardner’s experience in the JMU’s Marching Royal Dukes and the JMU music education program demonstrate his “commanding knowledge of his content,” continues King. “His passion and energy are already on display through his work ethic.” In fact, observes King, Gardner’s car is “often at the school long before and after Mr. Leaman’s [Paul Leaman, head of school], and that’s hard to do!”
While this year is going to be a different one for music, Gardner has high hopes. “My vision for the EMS band this year is to empower students to overcome obstacles, successfully perform challenging music, and thrive as musicians.”
Figuring out how to safely practice was crucial in having the band be successful. Currently, band and wind orchestra classes are practicing unmasked and socially distanced outside. However, with cooler wet weather on the way, they need a way to practice within the school safely.
The biggest issue faced was how to control the vapor that is generated by blowing into wind instruments. With the help of a network of volunteer seamstresses and musicians, EMS students will soon be playing while wearing specialized masks and using instrument covers. The instrument covers are sized to fit each instrument, from the tiny end of a flute to the huge bell of the tuba. The covers block the amount of spit and other breath particles being emitted by the players, explains Gardner.
Phoebe Renfroe, professional seamstress who plays flute, created a special flute mask. She, along with Luann Bender, former EMS teacher; and Mary Leichty, class of ‘13 and substitute teacher for Gardner the first two weeks of school, made the bell covers. Additional special face masks for instrumentalists are on order and should arrive soon.
“These are incredibly specific and important items which make playing inside possible this year. We are extremely grateful for all the work the volunteers put into the bell covers and special flute masks,” says Gardner.