John Webster stood at the front of a room filled with about 30 children. The Azalea Middle school students squirmed and twisted their heads around.
Their eyes darted about the room; they seemed to be in a parade of adjustments and mimicry.
Webster spoke, his voice both soft and authoritative. The restless children stilled, and Webster explained the next section of music, encouraging the choir to lower the volume of their voices. “Louder does not necessarily mean better,” he explained to them.
Webster began this school year as a long-term substitute teacher for the music program at Azalea Middle School. Webster took over the program after the previous music teacher, Emmett McCutchenne Jr., left the district this summer for another job.
Webster is already a familiar face around Brookings schools, having served as a substitute teacher in Brookings and Del Norte County since 2010.
Webster worked as an educator for 30 years in Fresno, Calif., prior to moving to Brookings upon his retirement.
“My wife loves the ocean and we couldn’t afford California coastal property,” Webster said.
Webster taught music education for 34 years, including two years as an administrator. He went into music education because of his love for the discipline.
Webster, who has played French horn most of his life, has performed professionally with the Fresno Philharmonic for many years. When he moved to Brookings he joined the Curry-Del Norte Orchestra and became its director this year after the former director retired.
Webster credited his mother for nurturing a love of music.
“She was a classroom teacher and a music teacher,” he said. “She graduated with a music degree from the University of Oregon. There was always music in the home.”
When the music program at Kalmiopsis Elementary School was cut a few years ago, Webster, as a volunteer board member of Stagelights Musical Arts Community, started teaching a recorder class for fourth graders.
“There are two directions in music: performance and education,” Webster said. “To be a performer, you need to be egocentric, something I’m not. And I liked teaching and I like music.”
Students involved with music tend to be better connected to the school and music teachers tend to hold a special place in the constellation of teachers in students’ lives.
“Some courses, some disciplines, make a deeper connection with students,” said Sheryl Lipski, principal Azalea Middle School.
And music is one of those courses.
“Music goes into the aesthetic domain,” Webster said, “It goes into the emotional realm. You go to festivals and on the buses you build camaraderie.”
Webster compared a choir or a band to an athletic team, saying that a team dynamic tends to develop.
For many students, music classes at the middle school are their first foray into organized music. One of Webster’s goals is to increase the level of musical literacy among the students.
Webster said he enjoys teaching middle school after having taught at other grade levels. He said he enjoys teaching and sometimes, at the high school level, too much time is spent fundraising and planning rather than being able to teach.
While the job posting for music teacher in Azalea is still open, Webster said he is very happy to be there and is really impressed with the staff.
“I really hope it becomes a permanent position,” he said.
Lipski added, “We’re very lucky to have music here. We’re happy to have John here.”
And taking a break from teaching full time the last few years has been helpful for Webster, giving him a new, more whole perspective.
“My job is more about making sure little Johnny becomes a successful citizen,” Webster said. “And not so much about whether he goes to the New England Conservatory of Music.”