It is my opinion that I have shared before that there are many great things happening in Manchester Public Schools every day that go unreported.
The first time that I remember seeing Keith Berry was at a Manchester High School Band concert about 10 years ago. After many years of discussion and fundraising, the marching band had received new uniforms. The Bailey auditorium was packed and the band members marched through the aisles performing in their old uniforms for the last time. After a short wait, the band came out again. This time the students were dressed in their stunning new uniforms. The crowd was on their feet and applause erupted as the band members again marched through the aisles and onto the stage. It was a performance that I will never forget. When I received a notice recently about the MHS Jazz Festival in February, I thought, I've got to talk to Keith Berry!
Timothy Becker: Keith, I know that you have been the Band Director here at Manchester High School for many years. When did you first get interested in music?
Keith Berry: When I was in second grade, my father who was an engineer for DuPont, was transferred from our home town of Newark, Delaware to Independence, Missouri for one year. In Independence my parents took me into a music store and told me that I could play any instrument that I liked except the drum. I chose a trumpet and I started taking lessons. I remember the day that both of my front teeth fell out and I could have got out of the trumpet lesson, but I was determined to go. From age eight all the way through college I played in the school band. Even when I was studying for my masters degree at Central Connecticut State University, I played trumpet in the school wind ensemble.
Timothy Becker: Did you plan to make music your career?
Keith Berry: Music was something that I was good at. Most students are not going to be music majors. I went to the Hartt School, which is now a part of the University of Hartford. It was one of the top music schools in the country. My dream job was to play first trumpet with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. I got the bug for teaching by doing private lessons as a college student. I became a counselor at a two week summer music camp sponsored by Hartt and I got to observe some of the masters. In the 1980s, I became the director of the Hartt camp.
Timothy Becker: Where did you start your teaching career?
Keith Berry: My first teaching position was at three elementary schools and the middle school in Farmington, Connecticut. The next year I was invited to become the Band Director in Southington. It was an exciting time for me. I was 22 years old at the time and stayed in that position for eight years. The community there supported me and the program grew.
Timothy Becker: How did you make your way to Manchester?
Keith Berry: I had two very close friend in Manchester and I was introduced to Clara Smith who was the supervisor of music in Manchester. Clara stayed in touch and worked on me for eight years. I came to a concert in Manchester and I liked what I saw. I was ready to make the change.
Timothy Becker: Was it very different than today?
Keith Berry: Betty Kirby was the head of the art and music department. I was the full-time band director and Edward Tyler was the part-time chorus director. We were the whole department. Now we have four full-time teachers and two part-time teachers.
Timothy Becker: What learning experiences do you offer students at Manchester High?
Keith Berry: We now offer creating music with a computer. The guitar curriculum is also very popular. We have a concert band, a jazz ensemble, a percussion ensemble, and the marching band. There is a 9th grade orchestra, a 10th grade orchestra, and a combined 11th and 12th grade orchestra, as well as the chamber orchestra. For singers we have the chorus, the chorale, the jazz choir, and the roundtable singers who will be celebrating their 75th anniversary next year.
Timothy Becker: What events do you have coming up?
Keith Berry: We have the Manchester High School Holiday Concert, Wednesday December 19, 2012 at 7:30 PM. Concerts are in Bailey Auditorium and are free and the public is encouraged to attend. We also have the MHS Mid-Winter Concert Wednesday January 16, 2013 at 7:30 PM featuring the MHS Jazz Ensemble, Roundtable Singers, Chamber Orchestra, and Percussion Ensemble, plus the Jazz Combo.
Timothy Becker: I am sure that you have received numerous offers over the years. Why have you stayed at Manchester High School?
Keith Berry: We have hosted trumpeter Doc Severinsen for the past two years to work with the music students. He has kind of a standard stump speech about not cutting music education. We tell him that you don't have to say that here in Manchester. I have found a community that is really supportive of music education for children. It is what this community wants.