Betwixt Code and Music

Isaac graduates high school

May 31, 202110 min read

TLDR; Our oldest child Isaac graduated from Berkner High School in Richardson ISD, and we are super proud of him!

Isaac posing in front of L.V. Berkner High School

Isaac posing in front of L.V. Berkner High School

And now, a tale of how my son came to graduate from the Mighty Ram Band of Berkner High School…

Wayback Machine

[the scene unfolds…lava lamps and vinyl records can be seen…]

My mom Denise Mathew graduated from Berkner in 1979, about a year after I was born. Her two brothers Ricky Stephens and Tom Stephens had already graduated with the first-ever class from Berkner in 1972.

(As an aside, Ricky later married our aunt Teri Odom Stephens, another class of ‘72 grad who was in the band at Berkner — the first “Band Sweetheart” ever for the school and a great lady! For any Texas music historians reading, Teri’s clarinet private lesson teacher in high school was Richard Floyd. Small world, eh?)

Some Time Later

In 5th grade I moved in with my grandparents. It would take at least a season of Oprah to explain what led to this event…another time. My mom’s parents still lived really close to Berkner HS. I attended Springridge Elementary and then Liberty JH, slated to attend Berkner, too. At the time, I was in the band program where Dave Casey was my band director. Jeff Moore (of Madison Scouts DCI fame) was student teaching, and he was my teacher for percussion class every day. At the end of 7th grade I earned a spot in the top band, and I was the highest chair rising 8th grader. I loved band, and I took it seriously.

However, our family moved away from Richardson to Rowlett the summer before I started 8th grade. When we moved to Rowlett, the new band director didn’t audition me at all, seemed not to care at all about my previous experience, and stuck me in bottom band—this is from my adult memory of a conversation in summer of 1991, so I might have it all wrong, but I didn’t get a chance to audition at all. I had to wait a year until high school started to find my passion for band again under the leadership of the tremendous George W. Jones. I’m glad that my friend Chris Vigneron and I decided to stick with high school band.

Fast forward a few years, and I end up in college studying Music Education. This made a lot of sense owing to my mom and dad’s musical heritage and my band training in 4th through 12th grade.

[Insert montage of Michael in college practicing percussion and performing constantly, marching two summers of drum corps, teaching endless summer drum line camps…set to the music of “Rosanna” by Toto, but the focus of the song is quads, marimba, and drum set]

Round 1 — Berkner High School Band

Through a tremendous twist of fate (and “knowing people” — thanks, Kyle Treadwell!), I later wound up teaching the drum line and percussion lessons at Berkner HS, as well as student teaching for the completion of my Music Education degree. I finally made it back to Berkner after our family moved to Rowlett several years earlier.

It was a great time teaching there alongside that tremendous band staff for two years. This staff included Mike Brashear, Pete Tolhuizen, Jacob Garlinger, Amy Johnson, Bob Johnson (Eddie Green’s percussion teacher from the legendary 1960s-1970s Lake Highlands bands), Bob Straka, Brad Gearheart, and Danielle Alice. The Berkner HS principal during this era was Dave Casey, the band director back when I attended Liberty JH. This epic experience formed much of what came to be my philosophy of Music Education. That time of my life really deserves its own entry in this space. I was surrounded by incredible humans every day, and I still carry valuable lessons learned in those two years.

A couple of quick accolades from that time:

  • The semester when I was student teaching, the Berkner Symphonic I band tied for 2nd in the Texas Honor Band competition. When they broke the tie, our group ended up 3rd overall. Great company!
  • During my student teaching, the Apollo JH Symphonic I band performed a TMEA Honor Band concert as the class BBB winner. Their conductor and my mentor teacher was Bob Straka, one of the best humans and musicians I have ever known. I had the pleasure of teaching the percussion section and even arranged some of the percussion parts for the performance.
  • In Fall 2002, during my second full year working at Berkner, our marching band performed 2nd overall at the last outdoor Texas State Marching Contest. After prelims our group was siting at 3rd place. Due to the weather, finals were canceled…another 3rd place finish!

Melissa and I had been married since December 2000, and we graduated in May 2002. Isaac got to “walk” the stage at college graduation in utero with Melissa.

During my 2nd year on the Berkner staff, Isaac was born in September 2002 on a Friday after we had a Thursday night football game. Both Isaac and I were around the Berkner scene in utero. We were at Berkner before it was cool!

[Additional montage of Michael attending a zillion rehearsals and band contests, constantly tuning drums, coming home too late, teaching the Berkner drum line each summer for ten years, and wishing he could trade in all of the trophies his percussion/band groups were winning for a higher salary…set to the music of “Harder Better Faster Stronger” by Daft Punk]

Round 2 — #TeamBerkner

Near the end of my teaching career, I served as the Percussion Director for the Berkner band cluster in 2013-2014. What a fun year teaching alongside my college buddy Scott Ward and of course the legendary Frank Troyka and Lynne Jackson! The staff at each campus was so good: Jason Schayot, Steven Torrence, Christopher Bronson, Chris Pineda, Andrew Weak, David Becker, and Kimberly Beene. I loved going back to my old stomping ground at Liberty JH each week. Teaching at Berkner was maybe the first place where I felt like I could be there forever, but only if we lived closer. We were also raising our own three children and my brother Stephen at this time, lots of responsibilities to juggle for two working teachers.

The decision to leave after only one year was a hard one. That group of people were so closely aligned towards building great musicians and citizens. Leadership and music-making at the highest levels were the norm—and they still are to this day with the Berkner Band!

Mike Switched Gears

In 2016, a year after I left teaching to pursue software development, we sold our house and moved back to the Berkner HS attendance zone. Melissa Mathew landed a position as Librarian at Richland Elementary in the Berkner feeder pattern. Everything seemed to align to make it all work out.

My little brother Stephen Mathew attended Berkner as a senior and graduated in spring 2017, where he was part of the percussion section in band and the audio/video program. Stephen was able to perform at “The Midwest Clinic” with the Berkner HS Orchestra, quite a way to go out.

Isaac entered the Apollo JH band as an 8th grader, earning a spot in the French horn section for the Symphonic I band, the highest performing group.

Isaac’s Turn

Isaac graduated in Spring 2021 after spending five years in the Berkner cluster, making lots of friends in the band and participating in Academic Decathlon for three years. Performing on French horn (“God’s instrument”, some have told me), he earned a place in the All-Region band every year from 7th through 12th grade.

In the fall of 2019, Alexis joined Isaac in the Berkner band. She plays bassoon and contrabassoon. The two kids travelled to Chicago in December 2019 for a performance at The Midwest Clinic with the Berkner Symphonic I band. Melissa, Olivia, and I travelled up to Chicago to watch them perform in person. It was a great trip!

In senior year of Academic Decathlon, Isaac had the highest Music Theory score in the State of Texas for his level. He earned top marks on the AP Music Theory test, and he’s a budding composer, writing lots of music that can be found on his Soundcloud page.

Isaac plans on attending the University of North Texas in the fall. Isaac and his girlfriend Ana have been dating since near the beginning of high school, and she’ll also be attending UNT to study art. They are excited to attend UNT, and we are excited for them both!

I am so glad we moved our family back over to the Berkner area so our children can be around the tremendous leaders at Berkner, both in the classroom and the fine arts. Our family is better for it, and our long family legacy as part of the Berkner High School story continues!

Michael D. Mathew.

Written by Mike Mathew who lives and works in Dallas building useful things. Sometimes he posts on Mastodon. Mike also wears many hats at Presto Assistant where he is a co-founder, owner, and product engineer.