A full class feels small when band teacher Nicholas Gattis is in the room, like you’ve accidentally walked into a private afterschool lesson. As he moves through the music, his eyes lock onto each student, making them feel noticed and important, as if they’re the only one there.
“This is your moment to shine,” he says, pointing to a group of clarinet players.
Gattis, who lives in south Charlotte, is in his fourth year teaching band at Carmel Middle School and credits his success to knowing what it’s like to be a middle school musician. He started playing the clarinet in sixth grade and fell in love with the camaraderie of band. By high school, he had his heart set on becoming a teacher.
“Everybody has a friend in band,” he said. “You put a room full of kids together and they all have to play at the same time, well eventually, they become friends and they build these lasting friendships and they’re creating strong bonds. I think that’s why I like it, because I enjoy making music with my friends.”
Gattis has a degree in music education from Western Carolina University, but tends to channel his passion for music and the teaching styles of his former band instructors while in the classroom.
He said it’s important to give students – especially middle-schoolers – individual attention so they don’t get lost amongst their bandmates. He also listens critically for every note and instrument to distinguish which students, or parts of a song, need improvement. He said the goal is to eventually train the students’ ears so they can identify and correct their own mistakes.
Individual attention, while important, is the most difficult aspect of being a teacher, Gattis said. He admitted that catering to the different needs and personalities of his students is sometimes a struggle, but it’s worth it to see them mature and grow.
“Watching them be successful, not just in band but in other areas too, is really rewarding to me,” Gattis said.
Band is often thought of as an extracurricular activity, and usually one of the first to go when school districts are in a budget crisis, but Gattis believes students learn just as much in band as they do in a standard classroom setting. He said band teaches students communication, teamwork, how to overcome challenges and that practice and dedication result in success.
“In a regular class, the way you perform on your homework or test only affects you. In band, you’re part of a large group and you’re important and valued,” he said. “Middle school students are at the age where they need to feel needed and depended on and so band teaches them to be someone people can rely on.”
While arts programs are losing funding and being cut from schools across the country, band at Carmel Middle School is flourishing. Since Gattis took over, students are excited and engaged. He prepares the students for two concerts a year, and also works with select seventh and eighth-grade students for Music Performance Adjudication at Wingate where they perform for comments and a rating. Last year, Carmel Middle School attended for the first time in nearly a decade and received the second-highest rating.
Recruitment and retention has also improved significantly under Gattis. Approximately 200 students now take band at the school.
“We were not even close to that before,” he said.
Gattis is looking forward to helping the school’s band program grow over the next several years and hopes it becomes one of the standout reasons students choose Carmel Middle. Until then, he said he’s happy just enjoying the everyday memorable moments of being a teacher.
“I live for those ah-ha moments when something finally clicks,” Gattis said. “Sometimes we’re in rehearsal and all the stars align and we get going and it sounds perfectly and we’ll just stop and bask in the moment. Those really are the best.”