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Cortez Middle School band director settles in

Even though Cortez Middle School band director Katie Zdanowski hasn’t yet finished her first year at the school, she says she has the “best job in the world.”

A native of central Illinois, Zdanowski moved to the area over the summer to live in the mountains and be closer to family, she said.

Zdanowski, a tuba player, helps direct several ensembles at the middle school and high school with colleagues Andrew Campo and Rodney Ritthaler. Those groups include the high school symphonic and concert bands, the high school jazz band and the sixth- and eighth-grade bands at the middle school.

Though there was a steep learning curve when she first started, Zdanowski said she quickly learned how things were done. It was a smooth transition and the students were very welcoming, she said.

At her previous band directing job in Illinois, Zdanowski said she worked hard to try and build up a sense of pride with her students. But she didn’t have to do that in Cortez, she said.

“The kids have a strong sense of pride,” she said. “It’s interesting to walk in and have that strong commitment in place. It’s very cool. I don’t take that for granted.”

Both the seventh- and eighth-grade bands received “superior” ratings March 8 at the Northwest New Mexico Music Educators Large Group Ensemble at San Juan College in Farmington. It’s been at least a decade since both groups have earned such high marks, according to Campo.

Zdanowski said that event went very smoothly. The kids and directors were proud of the performance, so the high ratings were “icing on the cake,” she said.

“The kids were given responsibility and they handled it,” Zdanowski said. “They were proud of the work the accomplished.”

This year’s middle school group is smaller than normal, but musically strong, Zdanowski said. They’re preparing for an end-of-year performance in May, including rehearsing a piece featuring music from the animated movie “The Incredibles,” she said.

The high school groups are preparing for an upcoming evaluation, too. Zdanowski said she enjoys being able to collaborate with Campo and Ritthaler.

“We’re always trying to share ideas and improve on things that are happening,” she said. “We’re always trying to grow and set kids up for success. We try to find ways to do things better. Every year is different.”

Zdanowski also is working with the students to develop their music literacy skills, she said. Teaching rhythms and notes is different from teaching students to read music and figure it out on their own, she said.

Each day of band directing is thrilling, Zdanowski said.

“I get to make music every day,” she said. “I get to do it with dynamic, fun, hard-working kids. Every class we do this, and we all care about it and love it.”

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