Brad Mariska, Austin High School’s new band director, has brought plenty of energy to the Packers music program with a goal of making sure students can be involved. Eric Johnson/

Archived Story

The Music Man

Published 9:00pm Saturday, December 8, 2012

Austin High School’s new band director is bringing vitality to Austin’s music program

At many football games and sporting events this fall, students shouted out requests for the Austin High School pep band to play songs by Lady Gaga, Rihanna and One Direction. The new band director was happy to oblige.

“There’s nothing cooler than going to a pep fest or going to a football game and hearing the student section shout out requests to the pep band,” said first-year band director Brad Mariska.

A new song catalog and energized pep band is just one of the ways Mariska is breathing added life into an already strong band program and building a more public face this year.

AHS music director Brad Mariska directs a rehearsal of concert band. Eric Johnson/

Mariska took over as band director after Brad Anderson moved within the district to teach fifth- and sixth-grade orchestra.

Along with changes to pep band, Mariska is adding more performances to the jazz band’s slate, entering AHS bands in solo ensemble competition, forming a drumline and even returning a marching band to the streets for some events — all ways Mariska said he is “just trying to find many, many opportunities for the kids to perform.”

First and foremost, Mariska is leading AHS’s two main bands: The concert band and the wind ensemble; the latter is chosen by audition. Both consist of about 60 students for a total of about 120 band students.

When he interviewed, Mariska said it was quickly apparent he was inheriting a strong band program.

“There’s a really, really great core of music students,” Mariska said. “The wind ensemble has been phenomenal for a really long time.”

Added pep

One of the first ways Mariska has left his stamp on AHS is by revamping the pep band. Mariska added new, modern music to play at sporting events and pep fests. Yes, the band still plays classics like “Twenty-Five to Six to Four,” “Eye of the Tiger,” and “Crazy train,” but the new tracks help keep pep band fresh and entertaining.

“Pep band can be for everyone, and the more kids that show up, the more fun it is,” Mariska said.

For the roughly one dozen winter sports events, band kids will be required to attend two events, but Mariska said many students attend more.

“Most of the kids come just because they love to play,” he said, adding they also get lettering points.

The pep band played for many events over the fall, including football, volleyball and the boys soccer section final. The band kicked off its winter pep season Friday, and it will continue playing events like basketball, hockey and wrestling.

“We’re really trying to reach out, and support all students and all athletes and make ourselves visible to the whole community,” he said.

 Marching band

Mariska could be taking the concept of the rejuvenated pep band to the streets.

In coming years, AHS could send a marching band to more events. The band marched at homecoming, and Mariska said they’ll likely march at Memorial Day and possibly the Fourth of July.

To Mariska, band students have a responsibility to be a voice for the school, and he said they have to be involved.

“A band can be the representative of the high school to the whole community,” he said.

However, Mariska warned the marching band will not look like the traditional uniformed band performing detailed routines on the street.

“That’s a huge investment of time and monetary resources that we don’t have at this point,” he said.

Instead, Mariska envisions a more laid-back, positive experience. Mariska described his idea of a marching band as a glorified pep band that marches down the street and plays music people will enjoy hearing.

“I’d rather spend my time making music and sharing music with the community,” he said.


One new way the bands will share music with the community next month is through a new concert hosted by the school’s jazz band.

The jazz band, which rehearsed but never performed last year, is back and taking on a more public role.

“We’re trying to revamp that because jazz band hasn’t performed at any concerts the past couple years,” Mariska said.

This year, there are about 20 students in the jazz band, and Mariska is planning many performances for the group.

Perhaps the biggest performance will be on Jan. 20 at the first Paramount Jazz concert at the Paramount Theatre featuring the Austin High School jazz band, the Ellis jazz band and the Southern Minnesota Real Big Band. Mariska said he hopes it becomes an annual event.

Along with the Paramount show, the jazz band will perform at the AHS band concerts this year, and it’ll play at the “Swingin’ into Christmas” performance.

Mariska is planning to take the group to a few jazz festivals and record for KAUS Radio.

 New offerings

Along with revamping old programs, Mariska has also started new things at AHS. Recently, Mariska started a drumline for drummers and other musicians. The first practice attracted more than 40 students.

“The kids are pretty excited about it,” he said.

The drumline is working on its first piece called “Junkyard Rumble,” which involves students playing garbage cans, lids and other non-traditional drum instruments.

Mariska said many students often say they wish they could play the drums, and the drumline is a good chance for flute players, trombone players and even some orchestra students to have that opportunity.

 More to come

Mariska isn’t stopping at the changes made this year to the band program. In coming years, he hopes to offer AP music theory classes.

The courses, he said, will offer a side of music not centered on performance, and it would give students an academic perspective, especially those students who intend to go to college for music.

But Mariska isn’t looking solely for strict musicians. He wants to grow the band program’s overall enrollment, and he is urging all students in the high school to be involved in music.

“Band isn’t just for a small group of people,” he said. “My philosophy of music education is that music’s for everyone. I think every kid in Austin High School should be in music. Whether it’s band, orchestra of choir, I don’t care. But we’ve got room for more kids.”

 A matter of opportunities

For Brad Mariska, coming to Austin High School was a matter of increased opportunities.

The first-year Austin High School band director grew up in Waterville and attended college at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. He then earned a graduate degree at the University of Maryland in musicology with the intention to become a college professor. However, he opted to teach high school music instead.

After his schooling, Mariska taught in Pine City for eight years, before getting the opportunity to take over as the band director at AHS.

“I was looking to live in a bigger community and also take advantage of some the opportunities larger schools and larger school systems can provide,” Mariska said.

Some of those opportunities are in the classroom. In Austin, students often specialize in a few extracurricular activities, where in Pine City — a city of about 3,000 people — students tend to be involved in more things.

“In a small school, every kid does everything,” Mariska said.

Mariska noted there are Austin band students who play three sports and are involved in many things, but more focus their efforts exclusively on a few disciplines.

“We also have a good core group of kids where music is their number one thing, and they really, really work hard at it,” Mariska said. “They want to be great, and they’re taking private lessons. It pulls all of the kids up; it makes the group stronger.”

In Austin, Mariska has more time to be the high school band director, as he wore multiple other hats in Pine City, including theatre director and fifth-grade band director.

“This position allows me to focus in on what I enjoy the best, and what I think I do the best, which is teach high school band,” he said. “And being able to do that all day everyday is a joy.”

In Austin, the band director also has more opportunities outside the classroom.

Mariska has already sat in with the Austin Symphony and he’s on the sub list for Austin Big Band.

“There’s more performance opportunities for me personally,” he said.

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