Becky Long’s life in music was destined, set in place even before she was born. Her mother, a talented singer and flutist, fell in love with her father, an Air Force musician, as she watched him play a grand piano. At the age of six, Long began her own musical life by taking piano lessons from a French opera singer.
Since then, she’s never stopped making music, and she knows that band programs can offer much more than learning how to make an instrument produce a certain note. For the MICDS Upper School Band Director, it’s about developing core life skills, building relationships and, ultimately, affecting the world.
“I look at the long game. If I can teach students how to practice, they can take that experience to their other classes. Or maybe they’ll struggle to play a hard piece and learn about grit, and that lesson on perseverance will transfer to other parts of their life,” she said.
Long’s love of music started with the piano, but in 4th grade she picked up her mother’s old flute and took to marching around her small Illinois town’s streets with her school bandmates during practice on summer mornings. “I never put my flute down,” she said, despite an allergic reaction to the nickel mouthpiece. Her parents noticed her commitment to playing even with the allergy and invested in a new, silver-plated flute.
At 12 years old, inspired by a strong female band director, Long decided to become a band teacher. She played flute freshman year in the intensely competitive marching band at her local Catholic high school and watched a committed percussion teacher work with the school’s state champion drumline program. “It took me five minutes to see how much fun they had and say, ‘I have to do that.’” She added percussion to her repertoire and music continued to fill her days.
After high school, she studied music education at Illinois Wesleyan University where she was selected for top ensembles as a percussionist. Wesleyan also gave her the opportunity to start doing what she loved: teach music.
She also participated in a summer drum and bugle corps program, which posed a financial strain on her family that she appreciates to this day. For her final year, her family pulled together resources to send her to the Colts Drum and Bugle Corps in Dubuque, Iowa. It wasn’t her first choice, but it turned out for the best: it’s where she met her future husband, Jay. “I try to teach my students that everything happens for a reason. If I’d have gotten I wanted, I would never have met my husband,” she said.
Long recognizes the support her parents provided, and how important that was to her success as a student. She said, “I know that not all of my students are lucky enough to have what I had, so I want to be that person in their life. I want to be a cheerleader at their lacrosse game and also support them at their grandparent’s funeral.”
After graduating from Illinois Wesleyan, a solid network combined with being in the right place at the right time led to opportunities that fed Long’s love of music and teaching. She directed school choirs and bands, tutored privately and served as a church choir director. The University of Illinois—her first choice when she looked at colleges in high school—offered her full tuition remission for a masters program. She taught music at her high school alma mater while completing her masters over three summers.
Jay wound up teaching in Illinois, too, ten miles down the road from Long. “The stars aligned in the middle of cornfields in Illinois,” she laughed. They married and had two children – Jace and Grayson – and eventually settled in St. Louis with band positions in the Rockwood School District.
She came to know MICDS while working as an education representative for the local branch of an instrument shop. “I got to be in 40 band rooms a week and was involved in classrooms,” she said. “I know nearly every band director in the state of Missouri now.”
Then MICDS called. For Long, the School felt like home from the very beginning, and she saw immediately how her talent and experience might benefit the band program. She says that MICDS offers a global view of music, where it is and how it is today, and she credits Middle School Band Director Josh Baumgartner’s support and enthusiasm for developing a strong vision for the MICDS band program.
While she loves teaching students, she also enjoys teaching teachers. She has presented a clinic at the Missouri Music Educators Association conference about how to inspire student musicians to practice. She continues to research and fine-tune her program to share with others. “If we can figure out how to have a successful program here, where we see our Middle School students twice every six days, that’s information band directors at every school can use.”
Ultimately, she’s striving to create a warm community within the MICDS band program. “I want to show students what they are capable of doing with music, and what it can do for their lives. It’s about ensuring music stays a part of their lives and builds connections.” She gives departing seniors copies of the children’s book Mole Music when they graduate, including a handwritten note inside the cover. The book is a reminder of how you can affect the world even when you don’t realize it.
Long’s family still supports her musical life today. Her father and her husband pitch in with the pep band and help out at MICDS concerts. Her mother is often in the audience, encouraging Jace and Grayson, a new Ram this year, to appreciate the music their mother inspires from student musicians. Long’s band family extends to include friends, students and colleagues so it doesn’t matter whether she’s at home jamming with her husband and dad or conducting the Upper School Winter Band Concert, she’s always among family.