We are happy to announce Dan Morrison as January’s Young Professional Spotlight. Dan is the Director of Bands at Ronald Reagan High School and was vital in leading their program to a hugely successful 2015 marching season. He is also half of the fantastic team behind the blog Sequins & Suspenders with his fiancée Ellie Leeper. We had a chance to speak with him about his career and involvement with the organizations he is passionate about.
Where did you go to college and how did you move into the career you are in?
I went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and earned both my Bachelors and Masters degrees in Music Education. I chose music education as a career because my dad, who was a band director for 35 years, inspired me to follow in his footsteps. Music was what I was around every day throughout my childhood, and it was something that I became very passionate about.
As a musician, can you share with us some of the different instruments that you play?
My main instrument is trumpet, which I grew up playing. I am considered a brass specialist and I can play all of the brass instruments reasonably well; not as well as the trumpet, however, which I spent many years intensely studying. As a music education major in college, you have to learn how to play all of the band instruments. As a result of those studies, I know my way around other instruments.
Tell us a little more about your role as Director of Bands at Ronald Reagan High School.
This is my sixth year at Ronald Reagan High School and my first year as Head Director. In my role I am in charge of the marching band; I run all of the rehearsals, I coordinate the design elements for the annual competitive marching band show, and I am also the Director of the Wind Ensemble, which is the top-level concert band out of four ability-based concert bands in our program. We also have two additional full-time assistant band directors, who are a huge support to my efforts. I help them with their band classes and rehearsal periods as well. A lot of what I do during the school day is not teaching, but administrative work. I manage the finances of our band program, and I help oversee a nonprofit organization with its own Board of Directors, the Band Parent Association. I also manage the planning of our group trips, which are anything from a simple performance outside of school to traveling to marching band competitions throughout the state, and even nationally on fun trips such as Disney World. I basically run a medium-sized company, but I manage 260 high school students instead of employees.
What is the most rewarding aspect about your job?
The most rewarding aspect of my job is to experience the students’ performances throughout the year. We had an extremely successful season with our marching band show this year, and the audiences deeply connected with what we presented on the field. As a result, we received incredible reactions from it. Experiencing those reactions as the Director, knowing that the students could also feel the energetic response to their hard work and their moving performance is an out-of-body sensation that I had not yet felt outside of being a performer myself, until this season. Living that through my students was even better than living it as a performer, and it was the most rewarding gift I have received as an educator in my career.
What organizations are you involved with and do you have any leadership positions within those organizations?
I am a member of the Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA) and the Texas Bandmasters Association (TBA), which are both music educator-based organizations. I am also on the Millennial Committee for the Chamber Orchestra of San Antonio (COSA). This is a committee of young professionals whose purpose is to engage with peers and get them interested in and excited about classical music and our Chamber Orchestra. I am also a member of the Ghost Light Society at The Tobin Center, which is the young professional organization in support of The Tobin Center that Ellie founded when she was an employee there.
Do you all host events or what is the best way that young professionals can become involved and participate in the Chamber Orchestra?
Our mission is to teach younger people to see the value in classical music. It is more than just showing people a classical performance; it is taking it a step beyond that, and helping millenials learn how to listen to classical music…how to appreciate it so that it becomes more than just a one-time experience.
The COSA MC recently helped host an event leading up to a Chamber Orchestra concert where four of the cellists played a more intimate performance in a COSA patron’s home. This was a great forum for people to engage with the performance and with other young people who were also appreciating it because the venue was comfortable. The musicians were our age as well, which is always a great way to engage our peers. Most young people don’t often realize that many of our country’s top professional musicians are young people. It automatically makes classical music and the classical concert experience feel more accessible when you can meet the musicians who are your age, and enjoy a cocktail and great conversation with them post-concert.
What are some of the things you like most about being a young professional in San Antonio?
The best thing about being a young professional in San Antonio is that there is so much opportunity here. San Antonio is behind other large cities, in some ways. However, it is because of that slower-paced, small-town feel that there are opportunities for anyone and everyone to get involved in the city’s growth and really make a difference. San Antonio is in an exciting phase right now, as it is becoming a more creative, convenient, and enjoyable place to live. I moved here almost six years ago, and since then the city has greatly improved in its urban core. I am from Chicago, and while I am biased and still think it’s the best city in the country, it is already so well established that it is more challenging to break in and have a big impact there. I am eager to continue working in San Antonio and contributing in a small way to it’s progress.
What do you see as some of the challenges Young Professionals face in San Antonio?
A lot of young professionals are moving to San Antonio, and it is a challenge for new people moving here to know where to go, who to meet, and how to get involved once they are settled. For me, until I met Ellie, I just spent my time in the Stone Oak area because that is where I lived and worked, but I had no idea what I was missing downtown. Since Ellie grew up here and knew so much about the city, I became connected to like-minded individuals, and to my favorite places and organizations so quickly because of her. If it weren’t for Ellie, I would probably be living a very different suburban life right now. I also think I would have been back in Chicago. We need to find a way to better connect the silos of San Antonio so that this doesn’t keep happening to transplants like me.
The second biggest issue I believe faces our city is mass public transit. We use Uber to get everywhere at night, on the weekends, and to the airport, which is a huge improvement and added convenience. However, one of the things I miss most about growing up in a big metropolitan area is the train. I would like to one day be able to take a train within San Antonio to the suburbs, and to other surrounding cities.
Are there some aspects of personal development that you are currently working on?
My career is highly demanding of me physically, mentally and emotionally. Life balance is not something that comes easily because of my work schedule, so I have to be firm with myself and make time for things that I know will make me a better person. I read constantly, I golf, I take care of my body, I take Ellie on dinner dates, I invest in and closely follow the stock market, Ellie and I host dinner parties for friends who we know we can learn from in conversation; I pay attention to and appreciate men’s fashion, I travel, I write, I watch films, I make time for my family, I take Ellie to The Tobin Center for ballets, symphonies and orchestra concerts; I cook, I help parent our Maltese/Shih Tzu puppy named Pudge, I study classical music scores and I listen to a lot of music. I am now in my latter-twenties, and I have learned that life will not happen the way you want it to if you sit back and do nothing. Happiness is something you can control and that you must create for yourself. Since Ellie and I will be married in just two months, we both are working very hard to establish a strong foundation for our life-long partnership.
As a creative and entrepreneurial endeavor, Ellie and I have started a blog together called Sequins & Suspenders, and right now we are trying to find its true identity. We launched the blog with a broader focus on lifestyle, but through our writing we have found a niche in that we can be ambassadors for San Antonio and show people the lesser-known (but very cool) parts of the city that we enjoy. For those who don’t live here but would like to visit and have a true local experience, they may find our blog a useful tool to help plan their trip. After running the blog for a couple of months and seeing how people have reacted to various postings, the ambassador voice seems to be the direction toward which we are moving.
Can you share with us something that most people might not know about you?
Most people might now know that I was a child model when I was very young. I appeared in various ads for Matrix hair products, Montgomery Ward department store, and Levi’s jeans, among others. My older sisters were both actors and child models, and were represented by an agency in the Chicago area growing up. Naturally, since I was the baby brother, I did what they did.
Most people also might not know that I was Principal Trumpet in the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra when I was a Junior and Senior in High School. We performed at Orchestra Hall in downtown Chicago, as well as all over the world. Those years shaped my life as a musician and a performer, and I will never forget my experiences with the organization.
Who has been a mentor to you throughout your development as a young professional?
Dan with his parents.
My answer to this question is two-fold. My primary mentor in my life has been my dad, because he is someone that I look up to both personally and professionally. I model the things I do in my career after him, and I have followed his moral compass as a guide to many decisions in my personal life. He was my music teacher and band director in high school, so I have always looked to him as my teacher, friend, and formative influence on my life.
Someone else I met when I moved to San Antonio is a gentleman by the name of Mark Chambers. He helped open Ronald Reagan High School as the Head Band Director in 1999 and ran the program until 2006. He then became the Fine Arts Supervisor for our entire NEISD school district. I consider him an extremely close friend and a mentor, as he understands everything that I am both challenged with and enjoy in my career and my personal life. He has great advice for me professionally, and is someone I am very fortunate to be able to lean on for guidance.
Accomplishments of the Reagan Band:
During the 2015 marching season, the Ronald Reagan Band won both the Bands of America Conroe Regional competition and the Texas Marching Classic competition. This was the first time that the Reagan Band has won a competition of any kind since 2006. At BOA Conroe, the Band won Outstanding Visual Performance and Outstanding General Effect. At the Texas Marching Classic, the Band won Outstanding Visual Performance and Outstanding Music Performance. At the Bands of America Super Regional competition at the Alamodome in San Antonio, the band placed 2nd out of 60+ bands, including four bands that went on to make Finals at the Bands of America Grand Nationals competition in Indianapolis, Indiana.
More About the Program:
The Ronald Reagan High School Marching Band has been a consistent Bands of America Regional, Super Regional, and Grand National Finalist since the school opened in 1999. The Marching Band is a four time UIL Texas State Marching Contest Finalist in the 5A/6A Division. The Reagan Marching band has been awarded the John Philip Sousa Foundation Sudler Shield for Excellence in Marching Band.
The Reagan Wind Ensemble has been a state finalist in the Texas Music Educators Association Honor Band Competition three times. The Wind Ensemble has also been invited to perform at the Music for All National Concert Band Festival twice. All Reagan Concert Bands have consistently received ‘Superior’ and ‘Best in Class’ awards at the UIL Concert and Sight-reading Contest and various festivals throughout Texas.
Quid Nunc Sax Quartet Midwest Clinic
Students in the Ronald Reagan Band Program have the opportunity to compete individually and in chamber ensembles throughout the Texas UIL Solo and Ensemble Contest, where they have won numerous “Outstanding Musician” awards at the State level. Students also have the chance to compete in the Texas Music Educators Association All-State audition process, where Reagan students have seen high levels of success.
Reagan Band students perform at the “2015 Run for CRIT” event.
The Reagan Band is available to book for corporate and private performances in the San Antonio community, and the Directors feel it very important for the students to give back. They often perform at the Children’s Rehabilitation Institute, at neighborhood festivals in Stone Oak, and at various additional locations.Tags Ronald Reagan High School, Sequins and Suspenders, Career, Marching Band, Director, Wind Ensemble, COSA, Tobin Ghost Light Society, Uber, CRIT, modeling