Subscribe to get tough, fair journalism seven days a week.
Subscribe today

MHS alum returns as Celts’ band director

Of the Keizertimes

When Chris Nelson walked into the McNary band room for the first time in more than a dozen years, hundreds of memories rushed through his head.

“It is literally a trip down memory lane,” said Nelson, McNary’s new band director. “I imagine at some point I’ll get past that and it will be where I live and where I work but when I go to the high school, I just picture it how I remember it.”

Nelson began playing in the percussion section as a 12-year-old at Whiteaker.

He picked percussion because of its versatility. Instead of being stuck to one instrument, he could play bass drum, snare drum or even bells.

In high school at McNary, he fell in love with mallet pitched instruments like the xylophone.

“You could play melodies and tunes instead of just playing a beat on a drum,” said Nelson, who along with being in the marching band and jazz band, was also part of McNary’s competitive indoor drumline. “If it was in band, I tried to do it. I was all in on band in high school.”

By his senior year (2005), Nelson knew he wanted to be a teacher.

“I remember vaguely kind of imagining wouldn’t it be cool to be the band director here but it was nothing more than a day dream,” Nelson said.

Nelson earned a bachelor of music in instrumental music education from Brigham Young University and master of arts in music performance with an emphasis in conduction from Washington State.

After college, he became the band director of Timpanogos High School in Orem, Utah. Nelson started the program with 50-60 kids and grew it to 80-90 in three years.

“The band program was pretty small and the goal was to grow it and try to get more kids in the group,” Nelson said. “What I’m really proud of is we grew in terms of quality.”

His ensembles were consistently recognized for their quality with superior ratings at concert band, jazz band, and solo and ensemble festivals. The Timpanogos marching band was recognized with numerous first place finishes and caption awards in their division, and was named Utah’s 2016 Division 1A State Champion. During his time at Timpanogos, Nelson served on the School Community Council, and received numerous grants to develop curriculum and materials as a member of the Orem City Band Directors collaborative group.

Nelson had not planned on leaving.

“We liked what we had there,” he said. “We were really happy. But when this job came open I had several people push me to take a serious look at it.”

Nelson’s parents still live in Keizer and his in-laws are in Tigard. Nelson and his wife have three small kids, ages 5, 3 and 1.

“When they made the job offer, we didn’t have to think about it too long,” Nelson said.

While Nelson is open to bringing back the competitive drumline, he’s not looking to make any immediate changes.

“McNary is already a very successful band program so there’s no reason to go in guns blazing and changing everything,” Nelson said. “That’s not my goal. I want to come in and see what’s making us successful. We’re just going to continue delivering high quality music.”

He also wants to hear from students and parents.

“We could do more competitive stuff in the future if there’s a demand for it,” Nelson said. “It’s really time consuming and cost a lot of money. If the students and the community, if that’s something they want to push for then I’m all for it. I don’t want to push them unless they want to.”

Nelson wants to continue the McNary tradition of serving the community.

“I don’t apologize for holding them to a high standard but I also hold myself responsible for teaching them how to achieve that standard,” Nelson said. “I like to build personal relationships with students. I want them to feel like when they come to band that there are going to be difficult things expected of them but they are going to have all the tools to achieve those difficult things.”

Along with teaching, Nelson has also played professionally with the Utah Wind Symphony and the Utah Premiere Brass, a British style brass band.

“I love playing and I think it’s important for music teachers to play and perform so I’ll be looking for opportunities and groups to play with,” Nelson said.