Ethan Shaw stood in front of the Mayflower band students, tapping his foot and directing them through a piece of music: “Right there, great!” he said.
Shaw, 23, of Conway is in his first year as a band director. It’s his first full-time gig since he graduated from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway in 2014 with a degree in music education.
The Greenbrier native is a trumpet player, and he earned All-State honors in high school.
Despite having a natural talent for music, it was going to be a hobby for him, not a career, he said.
“Originally, I thought I wanted to be a doctor,” he said. Shaw’s plan was to major in music, which he loved, then go to medical school. He was good in math and science, and he attended a medical camp when he was in high school. “I thought I would make a lot more money than I would teaching,” he said. “I had really buckled down my junior and senior years because I wanted to go to medical school.”
Shaw couldn’t deny his passion, though, and immersed himself in music. He taught trumpet at UCA through the Community School of Music and performed in the marching band. He was also in the wind ensemble and was a member of Pinnacle Brass, a brass quintet.
Larry Jones, professor of jazz at UCA, remembers Shaw fondly from those days.
“I’ve been teaching [him] since he was in high school. He was always a great student. He did some competitions and actually made it nationally, as far as that went,” Jones said. “He was always first chair or close to it.”
Jones said Shaw played in the Conway Symphony Orchestra and was a substitute in the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.
Shaw, the only child of Tammy and Rex Shaw of Greenbrier, said his mother is the other musical one in the family. He said she played clarinet at Heber Springs High School, was on the flag line and served as drum major.
Regardless of whether he became a doctor or a teacher, he said his parents were behind him.
“I couldn’t ask for more supportive parents,” he said.
His plan was to get his master’s degree in performance and become a professional trumpet player, whether with an orchestra, a band or just performing where he could.
“I got married, so I said, ‘Maybe this will work; maybe it won’t,’” he said. He decided he needed a steady income. “I said, ‘I’ll try teaching for a while.’”
Shaw said working as a student teacher in the Conway School District confirmed that he’d made the right decision.
His first job was in the Cabot School District, where he taught general music on a part-time basis for kindergarten through the sixth grade, primarily sixth-graders, he said.
After his stint in Cabot, he said he knew teaching was definitely the right career for him.
“At the end of the Cabot year, I ended up loving it, loving it.” The part-time position in that district was eliminated, however.
Shaw said he applied for full-time band director’s positions in about 10 school districts.
“I heard back from one; that was Mayflower. I interviewed, and I knew that day, or the next day,” he said, laughing. Shaw said many of the positions called for a woodwind specialist. “I’m a brass guy. I know brass like the back of my hand.”
Shaw took the place of Nick Williams, who left Mayflower to take a position as band director and counselor for the West Side School District in Greers Ferry.
“I love it here because I get to do it the way I want to do it,” Shaw said. “I’m not a control freak, but it’s nice to run it like I want to run it and build it, because these kids have a lot of potential.”
He has 24 students in the high school band, and no middle school band to speak of — he has six eighth-graders, which include three beginners. In beginning band, he has 32 sixth-graders. He also teaches a music-theory class, which has 10 students — not a one of whom is a band or choir student, he said.
The band booster club was dormant for years, he said.
“We’re building that back up. Those parents have taken it, and I’m like, OK — take it; do it. They’re my biggest supporters. The parents are incredible,” Shaw said.
One of those parents is Tammy Stickmon, whose ninth-grade son, Bradley, plays bass clarinet in the band. She said she is excited about Shaw and the energy he’s brought to the program.
“He has passion, dedication and the will to make this work,” Stickmon said, referring to the program. She called herself a “band nerd,” having been in the Conway School District program growing up.
“When he called summer practice this year and called the children in, it put a spark into me. I was like, this is turning into what it’s supposed to be,” Stickmon said. “I don’t know if I’ve watched Mr. Holland’s Opus too many times or what, but there’s just something about him that you can tell he’s got what it takes to make this program competitive with other schools of our size and possibly even more.”
Stickmon said she and another band parent, Tanya Wiley, are leading the charge to form a band-boosters program.
Shaw said his band-program budget is $3,200 a year. He said he eventually would like to use the money to provide scholarships, but for now, a lot of the money is needed to repair instruments. Students can buy their band instruments or rent them from a company in Little Rock or the Mayflower School District. The schools’ instruments are not bad instruments, Shaw said, but they need to be repaired.
“Up to this point, I’ve had no trouble buying anything. I’ve gotten a lot of support from the superintendent,” he said.
Superintendent John Gray said Shaw impressed him during the hiring process because he is “young, very energetic, and he had some good ideas about developing the band. We think his
personality will work well with the kids.”
Shaw said he is calm, but he’s also type A.
“I like to be pretty organized. This first year, I’m just trying not to drown most of the time,” he said. “I’ve been setting structure and discipline. … The kids seem to respect it. I stress being on time, picking up things, taking pride in what you do.”
Ninth-grader Samantha Moore said she thinks Shaw is “a really good band director because he makes time to make sure we really comprehend the stuff we’re learning.”
Shaw said band is equally as important as athletics.
“It keeps kids out of trouble and teaches them something they can use the rest of their lives,” he said. “They’re not going to be able to go out on a field and get beat up the rest of their lives, but they’re going to be able to pick up an instrument the rest of their lives.”
Shaw said his goals for the band include competing more, including in marching competitions.
“I want to see this band be competitive in Region 9. I want to see them get on fire for band and take pride in it.”
Students only have to look at their band director for inspiration.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or email@example.com.