Band director helps bring small town together

To say that Erik Hermanson has expanded the music education program at Cleveland Public School would be a major understatement.

When Hermanson started at the school 23 years ago, just 19 students in grades nine through 12 participated in his senior band. Today, that band is 144 members strong.

“I had to make a concerted effort to recruit from day one just to have a band,” he said.

And Hermanson was successful in his efforts.

This school year, 251 students in grades six through 12 participated in Hermanson’s band programs. With just 292 kids at the school, that's an 86 percent participation rate.

“As the band continued to play as many public performances as possible, the group grew,” Hermanson said. “Now we have toured all over the United States performing at concerts and in competitions from California to Florida.”

Hermanson attended Gustavus Adolphus College and graduated with a degree in music education. He never had any doubts this was the path for him.

“All I ever wanted as a career was to be a band director and a coach. I never had a plan b,” he said. 

Cleveland is a small school district about six miles away from Mankato, where Gustavas is located, so Hermanson applied there after graduation and got the job.

The district's size allows him to be very hands-on, but it also means he juggles multiple titles and responsibilities.

“Cleveland offers me the chance to teach four concert bands, seven jazz bands, a pep band, a choir and provides the opportunity to be the co-head varsity football coach,” he said. “During my tenure here, I have coached basketball, baseball and football at all different levels.”

While 12 bands and a choir spanning six grade levels might seem daunting to some, Hermanson loves it.

“I love the fact that I get to start the beginners and work with them until they graduate,” he said. “I enjoy seeing the growth and I truly marvel at the whole process.”  

Hermanson credits the culture of the school community with making the band successful.

“Cleveland has a great formula set up for band to succeed,” he said. “There is an administration that is looking to provide students what they need for success, teachers that care and work hard to achieve excellence, active and involved parents and hard-working, motivated students.”

Hermanson says the students really motivate themselves and the challenge and excitement of participating in the band program is what keeps them coming back.

“Being part of a group that is always trying to improve and striving to be the best we can be is fun for students,” he said. “We play many performances and contests throughout the year at which we play challenging and engaging music. It is a challenge, but a great reward, to take new notes on the page and make them great music and memories. And it is an absolute thrill to share that music with others.”

But it also takes a special kind of educator to bring that challenge and make it something real for the students, especially with limited resources. 

Hermanson’s band room is bursting at the seams. Music and arts education across the country have been hit hard by funding cuts and both the federal and state government education funding proposals show no signs of stopping that trend.

For Hermanson, it continues to be about making the band a special program to be a part of and the tradition of the Cleveland band is something that continues to grow.

“Making music is hard but rewarding,” he said. “I think the students like to try to make each year better than the last. The tradition is hard to live up to at this point, but it is also a contributing factor to our daily work ethic and drive.”

And, in the end, it’s all about the kids and the music for Hermanson.

“You have to show that you care about the kids and about music,” he said. “Let them see that it is fun and exciting and that you want to share that experience with them. Tell them how essential, needful, integral and special music is. You have to show students how learning and performing great music will change their lives.”