COOS BAY — “Not to go all Liam Neeson, but I have a particular skill set,” said Kenneth Chaney, the new band teacher at Marshfield High School.
Now 28 years into his career, the teacher has only taught at three schools, describing himself as someone who moves to an area to stay. But before Coos Bay, Chaney led band teams as far as tours to Italy and brought home handfuls of both state and national championship awards.
“I’m here from Indiana,” he said. “There, marching band is a blood sport. They live and die by what the judges say.”
Chaney has had two different bands in the Indiana state finals, bands in grand nationals and went both as a student and director to the Tournament of Roses Parade. He also took bands to the Orange Bowl Parade and the 500 Festival Parade.
“I’ve been all over the country playing in different places,” he said. “But I don’t worry about contests and festivals or judges. They hear a snapshot at one time doing one run-through of the song. If we do well, they think we’re amazing. If we have a bad day, they think we’re awful when we really might be somewhere in the middle. The students and I know what our strengths and weaknesses are. A judge only knows what we’ve done that one day. I’m more interested in knowing we’re good.”
Though Chaney is more focused on teaching than leading bands to competitions, he did say, “If we can compete against North Bend and show them up a time or two, fantastic.”
Chaney found his way to Coos Bay by following the job opening at Marshfield. He left Indiana behind now that both of his sons are in college and “I had no reason to stay,” he said.
When he was in high school, the saxophone player bonded with his band teacher who treated him and his peers like adults and pushed them on not just music skills but also in critical thinking skills.
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“He had a profound impact on me as a person growing up,” Chaney said.
Now, Chaney hopes to replicate that impact on his students by doing the same thing.
“I enjoy talking to students and hearing what they have to say,” he said. “Not as much as what they think but why they think it. That’s where that teacher had the major impact on me. He didn’t care what my opinions were, if I agreed or disagreed with him, but why I thought what I thought. That’s the question I always ask my students. Why. I want to develop that habit of knowing why they do things, why they think things.”
With classes packed with 50 students, Chaney looks around with the goal to teach them not only how to be critical thinkers but to be picky as well. Aside from the band teacher from his high school, Chaney pointed to other teachers throughout his educational career who taught him to be picky.
“I would think I was doing okay and they’d point out other things, other layers,” he said. “I know they won’t all go on to be music majors in college, but I want them to take with them the idea that ‘good enough’ is neither one. It’s never ‘good’ and it’s never ‘enough.’ The idea that there is a knowable and doable right and that no matter how close you get to it, you can always be closer to it. I want my students to push themselves to be the best at whatever they do and never settle.”
Since arriving to Coos Bay, Chaney has joined the community jazz band that is now starting up again and feels at home in the area.
“I’ve taught at great schools, but never been anyplace where the community was as welcoming and supportive as it has been here,” he said.