Farmington band director receives national honor

When Erin Holmes was in eighth grade, she decided she wanted to be a band teacher and she hasn’t looked back since.

Holmes’ dedication to her career and her students is partly why she was named one of the 2017 “50 Directors Who Make a Difference” by School Band and Orchestra magazine. The publication honors one director per state. This year, there were 880 nominations from across the nation.

Holmes is the director of bands at Farmington High School and has been teaching for 18 years. She currently teaches wind ensemble, varsity band, jazz ensemble, marching band and pep band.

Holmes started playing piano at an early age, but picked up the saxophone in fifth grade. At her small school, she had the same band director throughout middle and high school, who fostered that love of music and inspired her future career.

“As an eighth grader, there was just something that made me say, ‘I don’t want to not do this. I want to be a band director for the rest of my life,’” she said. 

Holmes never faltered from that, and now she wants her students to experience the same passion and connection to music she felt sitting in her school’s band room.

“Music is so different because the kids that are here love music,” she said. “Whether it’s listening to music that is completely different than what we’re teaching on a daily basis to something they are feeling inside, it makes them have that drive.”

Even though she teaches band, the music comes second in Holmes’ classroom.

“You need to make them feel like they have a place here,” she said. “I want them to feel safe and know that I care.”

Part of how she “makes a difference” in her classroom is creating connections.

“We’re so lucky in the music field because we get them for all four years,” she said. “With something like marching band where it’s after school and all summer long, you can create even more connections with a smaller group.”

Holmes says her office door is always open, whether that is to listen to a piece a student is rehearsing or just to talk with a student who needs a listening ear.

Holmes also shares her stresses and feelings with her students in order to make those connections.

“I let them know that I’m human, that we’re all human,” she said. “We have fun. We have down times. We have rougher rehearsals. I admit all the time on the podium when I make a mistake. But that’s how we grow and how we learn.”

“I teach them that it’s OK that we fail and that this is a safe space to do that. The more that we fail, the more you learn, especially when you step out of your comfort zone. And I give them that support that they need.”

Holmes is also set to take over as the head of the All State Jazz program for the Minnesota Music Educators Association. She will be the first woman to have that position. She will run the jazz summer camp and the performances that group does throughout the year.

While her dream of being a band director started in her youth, Holmes said there is still something about the career that keeps her motivated. 

“There’s something about this that I don’t want to stop doing,” she said. “And whether the kids go into music education, minor in music, I want them to keep playing or keep listening because it does something for them.”