Following A New Beat
MCHS band director Scott Ellis is surrounded by students during his final week. Ellis has taught at MCHS for 26 years.
Text by CHRISTINA SANTEE • Photo by ANGELINA BELLEBUONO
For the past 26 years, Morgan County High School Music Director Scott Ellis has taught students the ropes of playing music that soothes the soul, but now he’s leaving his conductor’s wand to rest while he pursues a less-directed lifestyle.
Retirement will bring forth a new and untold chapter in Ellis' life, though his memories of teaching some of Morgan County's most promising musicians and singers will remain an ever-existent and heartwarming recollection. His hard work and hunger to teach will stay with most.
“It’s been the most incredible career that I think anybody could ever have,” Ellis said. “To be able to work with the kinds of kids that I’ve worked with and have the success that I’ve had with them, but more importantly just to be a mentor to [them] and see the people that they become and be so proud of what they’ve done—I don’t see how anyone could ever ask for any better than that.”
Ellis has been involved with music his entire life. Coming from a large family of music enthusiasts, he was destined and more importantly, encouraged to express himself through songs and instruments.
Ellis can’t recall why it is he wanted to become an instructor, only when and where the epiphany occurred.
“I can remember being in a music production in second grade where we did some marching and stuff on stage,” Ellis said. “From that point on I have always wanted to be a high school band director and that’s all I’ve ever [done].”
A graduate of Florida State University with a degree in music education, work had a funny way of finding Ellis. His wife—also an FSU graduate and the music teacher at Morgan County Elementary School—was equally ambitious to land a job.
“When we graduated from college we were looking for two music positions,” Ellis said. “It just so happened that a teacher she had in high school was the brand new principal of Baldwin High School. While he [principal] was in transition moving to [Milledgeville], his wife worked as a secretary in the school of music at FSU. One night they were out to dinner and were discussing open positions at the school. His wife recommended my wife and I. [It was a real surprise] when she went to be interviewed.”
His grown son, also a music major at FSU, has played the drums professionally on a Carnival cruise ship for the past two years. Ellis says music is definitely his strong-suit.
Before the start of his career with the Morgan County School System, Ellis taught in Milledgeville at Baldwin County High School for five years.
“In Morgan County I have taught instrumental music [to] sixth grade through 12th grade [students].” Ellis said. “The first nine years I was in Morgan County, I did the entire band program at both the high school and middle school. By the end of the ninth year, the band program was so large that one person couldn’t do it. I ended up moving full-time to the high school and they brought in a separate middle school [band] teacher.”
From a college graduate in search of a job, blossomed a beloved and highly motivated teacher, respected by both his peers and students.
“I did teach chorus for two years,” Ellis said. “I actually started the chorus [program] and once that [developed], they brought in a choral teacher. I’ve taught marching band, symphonic band and jazz band,” Ellis continued. “I’ve [organized] the high school chorus [and] directed various musicals throughout the [years]—so a little bit of everything.”
Ellis’ devotion to his craft has allowed him to discover which pieces he enjoys teaching most. Though he promises he doesn’t have any one distinct style, he’s quite fond of the classics. Musically, Ellis has immersed himself in every existing genre one could possibly imagine.
“For me, I generally like very broad music topics, things like Broadway, jazz, Big Band, swing [and] patriotic,” Ellis said. “My shows have reflected that over the years because those are things people can relate to in a broad spectrum.”
Jeffery Rowser, from East Jackson High School in Commerce, will take over the band department at the start of the fall semester. Ellis’ students feel Rowser has big shoes to fill, but they are looking forward to welcoming him to MCHS.
Ellis has made it clear that he’s not tired of teaching, just that he has become content with the accumulated decades of doing what he loves.
“I’ve taught for 31 years,” Ellis said. “I’m just in a position where I meet all the requirements for retirement and the fact that I’ve been to 398 football games—I’m ‘football-gamed’ out.”
For someone who should be looking forward to a more relaxed and flexible lifestyle, Ellis has already thrown around a few ideas for how he will make use of his free time.
“Maybe doing some part-time teaching on the middle school level,” Ellis said. “I will possibly be doing some substitute teaching next year and [plan on] teaching privately. I don’t have any hobbies. It’s pretty sad, but true.”
Beyond musical talent, Ellis has tried to ensure that his students remember one very important thing—that only they can judge themselves.
“There’s a big trend, a very popular trend to make music into a competition,” Ellis said. “I just can’t view music as a competitive art. I think the idea of taking a band to a competition and [ranking them]...for me it’s not good. Although a lot of bands do that, it’s never been something I’ve bought into. It ends up boiling down to personal opinion and who’s to say which group is better and which group isn’t?”
Ellis just hopes that his former students will always have respect for their careers and themselves.
“Whatever you’re doing, whether it be music, sports, cooking,” Ellis said, “if you’re going to spend the time doing it, do it the absolute best you can do it. There’s no point in doing something halfway if you’re already going to spend the time doing it. I have the same philosophy about teaching. If you’re already going to put in the time, be the best teacher you can be.”
Printed in the June 16, 2011 edition