When asked if there was anything especially exciting going on in his life that he wanted to share, Mickey Stisher, Director of Music for La Porte School Systems, chuckled.
“Oh, boy,” he laughed. “I don't know about exciting…”
Stisher proceeded to give a rundown of his schedule—a schedule that’s jam-packed every single week of the year but for three in July. Understandably, with so much preparation for each event in a band program’s year, the excitement of one moment’s success is often quickly replaced with anticipation for the next. Between three concert bands, two jazz bands, winter color guard, pep band, and marching band, each with their own concerts and events, Stisher barely has time to take a breath.
“In our program, it’s always a busy season,” Stisher stated. “We’re like a coach for all seasons.”
Despite the hectic, “on to the next one!” mentality, Stisher does have something to be excited for. This year, La Porte High School’s top jazz band made it all the way to state finals at the Indiana State School Music Association (ISSMA) competition. The ensemble was one of only 8 other bands who qualified.
“I was really happy for the kids,” Stisher said. “They had a good contest this year.”
Stisher and his high school crew are already gearing up for their annual Jazz Fest in early May, which features a number of guest musicians. Busyness breeds those victories like the one Stisher’s jazz band experienced.
“I’ll have people come up to me and say, ‘I don’t know how you do it,’” revealed Stisher. “But, [as music educators] we know what we’re getting into when we choose it—it’s our profession.”
Stisher’s resume is quite impressive, with experience as an associate director and band director in two other high schools and a master’s degree from Louisiana State University. He’s been in his current position for 30 years now.
“There’s a high level of interest and support for the arts in this town, which, to me, is really unique,” Stisher explained of La Porte. “We have our own community symphony orchestra, and we have our city band that performs a concert every week in the summer. Not to mention, there are some art galleries that have popped up in town. The community, in general, is very committed to the arts.”
“That was one of the big things that drew me here. If there are that many adults that are still active in the arts and performing music, then you know the support’s there,” Stisher continued.
Another incentive for Stisher was the school’s aim to bolster the arts, most especially the music program. He described the La Porte schools’ music program as one rich in history.
“Going back to the ‘20s and the ‘50s even, our music department was represented at some very prestigious national level events,” he said. “There was a real push to try to head back in that direction.”
With the right amount of pushing (and Stisher helping to lead the charge), the music program at La Porte School Systems began to make its way back into high notoriety.
“[The administration and community] made it clear that they wanted to raise the bar and the expectation was high,” Stisher said. “And that was fine with me. Now, it’s just about maintaining consistency and continually raising our level.”
Outside of the constant demands of his career, Stisher still spends most of his free time on things relating to music. Despite its challenges, the line between work and recreation is a thin one.
“You know, more than anything this program itself has been, and continues to be, a huge part of our family’s life,” Stisher explained. “My wife and I have two daughters who are graduated now and older, but they went through the program. My wife—I always call her the best band mom ever. She has been like an extra staff member around here.”
Stisher’s passion for his work can be easily summed up.
“I do what I do because I want to teach music,” Stisher said simply. “Some of it’s harder, some of it’s easier. Just being with the kids, working with them to make them better musicians…like I said, it’s pretty much a year-round activity. But I enjoy all of it.”