Kleopfer announces grand finale: Former students credit ‘Mr. K’ for family atmosphere

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December 23, 2016 - 12:00 AM

Yohon Sinclair, a 2016 Iola High School valedictorian and the marching band’s 2015 drum major, said it was not until this week that he fully understood a lesson taught by Matt Kleopfer, his high school band instructor.
Kleopfer, who is affectionately called “Mr. K” by his students, announced this week that he will not return next school year.
Two years ago, Sinclair sat next to Kleopfer, watching other high school bands perform during a competition at Baker University.
“A lot of the really big, really good bands had started to play and he was pointing out directors that he knew personally to me,” Sinclair said. “After he pointed out probably three or four, he asked me if I knew a couple of the things they had in common.”
Sinclair did not know, so he asked for the answer.
“He told me that every single one of them had been married and divorced at least once, and that all of them were incredibly miserable guys when they weren’t winning band competitions; that they didn’t have a purpose,” Sinclair said.
“I asked him why that really mattered, and he told me with how our band program is growing and starting to do a lot better at competitions, that the day he had to choose between winning a competition and loving his family, he would put up his baton and he would no longer teach.”
“I kind of took it with a grain of salt until the other day when I read about his plan to resign, and then I realized just how true to his word he had really stuck to that,” Sinclair said. “He’s resigning partially because he can’t meet the demands of being a husband and a father and a teacher. It kind of made me feel really proud to know that he’s still sticking true to his word and not letting being a good teacher ruin the rest of his family life.”
The Mustang Regiment won that competition.

TECHNICALLY, Jordan Strickler, a 2013 IHS valedictorian and 2012 drum major, had five different band directors during his seven years in middle and high school. Kleopfer came on board for Strickler’s senior year.
“Mr. K’s level of expectation was a lot higher than the others, and with that also came an increased awareness on my part of what professional musicians can do and do do out in the real world and the awareness of what other high school programs are able to accomplish,” Strickler said.
Sinclair said the focus of former directors Larry Lillard and Robert McGuire was choosing music they knew the band could play because of its lower level of difficulty. That changed when Kleopfer arrived.
“Mr. K kind of came in and said pretty much ‘screw all that’ and gave us stuff that none of us could play and taught us to work up until we could play that,” Sinclair said. “It was a more uncomfortable but more rewarding style.”

STUDENTS SOMETIMES viewed Kleopfer’s goals as a bar that was set too high, Sinclair said. But they were never too high to be achieved.
“The first time he gave us the song ‘A Few Good Men,’ that was a goal of his to have us play that song, none of us thought that we’d ever be able to make it,” Sinclair said. “If I’m not mistaken, last year during the spring concert the middle school played that song.
“All of us students were like, ‘No way, we can’t ever play this. This song’s way too hard. But then he just kept working it and working it and finally he had a band that said, ‘All right, we got this. You give us the confidence. We’ll play it, no problem.’”
Michael Wilson, a 2014 IHS graduate and 2013 drum major, said the bar was raised when Kleopfer came.
“I remember with pep band under Lillard we really wouldn’t play unless Lillard was there,” Wilson said. “Then when Mr. K came along, he was like, ‘Alright, you guys really don’t need anybody to conduct; just play.’ That really changed our mentality.”
Strickler said Kleopfer’s goals for the band were high, but also said that was good for the band.
“I think it’s also good of anyone who makes goals to overshoot what they’re trying to do a little bit,” Strickler said. “You want to push yourself to the best you can be.”
“(Kleopfer) set a lot of goals that were going to be hard to achieve, but I think that’s the purpose of a goal, to make you work for it,” Sinclair said.
Sinclair, who is a freshman in aerospace engineering at Wichita State University, plays alto saxophone in the Shocker Sound, the basketball pep band.
Wilson, who is a junior in unmanned aircraft systems at K-State Polytechnic in Salina, played mellophone in the Shocker Sound when he attended Wichita State.
Strickler, who is a senior in medical biochemistry pre-medicine with a minor in music at K-State, is one of the baritone section leaders in the marching band and will perform at the Texas Bowl on Dec. 28.

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