Editor, McLerran Journal
Assistant Band Director, Center ISD, TX
I met Professor Kaatz only this past summer, but knew immediately that we would be friends. He is kind, intelligent, humorous, and deeply passionate about his work.
Originally from Troy, MI, Professor Chris Kaatz is currently the Assistant Director of Bands for the Stephen F. Austin State University School of Music in Nacogdoches, TX. His responsibilities include instruction of, wind conducting, assisting with the Lumberjack Marching Band, and directing both the Symphonic Band and the Roarin’ Buzzsaws Pep Bands.
Although he did not originally intend to become a music educator, Professor Kaatz has developed quite a passion for the field and is excited to leave his mark on the world. “As a music teacher,” he shared, “you can influence students in a positive way on an individual level.” This positivity, he believes, whether students become professional musicians or not, “ripples out into the rest of their life” and can literally change the world. “Musical ensembles,” according to Kaatz, “are models of an ideal society; you need humble and highly qualified leadership, collaboration among individual musicians, and a unified artistic vision.” Professor Kaatz began training for his musical career in 2006 when he decided that he wanted to apply for the Michigan State University College of Music and study with acclaimed saxophone teacher, Dr. Joseph Lulloff, “Right away, I realized I was not ready” Kaatz said about the audition process at MSU, but persevered even after being initially rejected by the College of Music in 2006. He appealed to his high school instructor, Kevin Peters, for help and began working daily to improve his saxophone technique. Kaatz re-auditioned and was accepted as a music education major in November of that year. He gives most of the credit for this impressive growth and achievement to Mr. Peters saying, “He’s awesome! He really whipped me into shape.”
After completing his undergrad work at MSU in 2011, Kaatz accepted a position as the Director of Music at Mater Dei Catholic High School in Breese, IL (2011-2014). There, he was personally responsible for organizing and instructing the concert band, wind ensemble, marching band, pep band, jazz band, choir, beginning music classes, music appreciation, pit orchestra (for the spring musicals) , winter drumline, and winter colorguard. The complete program included approximately one hundred students, grades 9-12th. About working with so many students and such a variety of ensembles, Professor Kaatz shared that his focus was laying a strong foundation of both musical technique and understanding throughout the program. “It’s not just enough for the music to be clean,” he shared, “fundamental techniques serve the musicianship” and musical interpretation. Next, Kaatz returned to high education and earned his Master’s in Wind Conducting (2016) from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music.
In the spring of 2018, Professor Kaatz noticed an open position had been posted at Stephen F. Austin State University (SFASU) in Nacogdoches, TX. The SFASU School of Music had already been on his radar for several years since one of his mentors, Dr. Kevin Sedatole of MSU, had worked there previously. About his colleagues in the SFASU School of Music, Kaatz shared that he is lucky to have such wonderful and welcoming people in his corner. Kaatz is also grateful to have been accepted into the state of Texas, where music education is funded and supported a great deal more than in other places. He hopes to provide his current students with adequate professional training to continue the state’s tradition of excellence in music performance, but also plans to place a greater emphasis on musical literacy at all levels. Musical performances that are centered around perfection, Kaatz believes, can at times come off as “sterile” and lose the power and emotion that the composer intended. Through his daily interactions with future music educators at SFASU, Professor Kaatz hopes to emphasize the importance of preparation (at both the individual and ensemble level) and of advanced musical understanding. “Reading music,” he states, “is an important part of the recipe, but it’s just one ingredient. The rest of the experience comes from mastery of the instrument itself and an understanding the fundamentals of music theory.”
Currently, Professor Kaatz is working on earning his doctorate from the Northwestern University School of Music in Evanston, IL. He hopes to eventually become a director of bands at the university level and, through that position, “impact music education in a significantly larger way.”
Book/Recording Suggestions from Professor Kaatz:
Interview on October 19, 2018.