Ahern: Brother Rice’s Briggs full of energy
By Patti Ahern Citizen Journalistfirstname.lastname@example.org July 26, 2012 1:08PM
Brother Rice High School band director Daniel Briggs guides band students through a performance in front of their peers. | Supplied Photo
Updated: August 30, 2012 6:06AM
In his role as band director for Brother Rice High School, Daniel Briggs knows his job requires energy, patience, energy, hard work, energy, a love of music, energy, energy and more energy.
Was energy mentioned?
Briggs seems well-prepared, however, particularly in the energy department, because at 28, he already is a seasoned director, with more than one accolade on his resume.
Briggs’ work as a band director started his senior year of high school, when his band teacher took a maternity leave. Though it probably bent a few school rules, Briggs took over the class for six months.
Substitute teachers were in the room, but the school administration gave Briggs the responsibility for running the class. He refers to that time as “tons of fun,” and the experience confirmed his decision to work with students and music.
Upon graduation, Briggs enrolled at the University of Dayton in Ohio, where he was elected president of the Ohio Collegiate Music Education Association. Upon graduation, he found a job at a middle school in Maryland — his home turf.
Despite working at a job he liked, he still was eager to teach at the secondary level, and before long, he took a job at a high school, also in Maryland, where he taught band, chorus and orchestra.
He stayed there for five years and earned a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins. Along the way, he also received a Teacher of the Year award.
Though Briggs loved the work he was doing, his college sweetheart, Beth, a Skokie native, was now his wife, and they decided to find a job closer to her family. Both went on the job hunt in Illinois, and Briggs was hired at Brother Rice last year, where he hit the ground running.
First, Briggs made himself available to students 12 hours a day. Though he lives on the North Side and has an hour commute to Brother Rice, the band room opens at 6 a.m. sharp.
“The band is here — it is a safe place and is open from six until six,”Briggs said. “Some kids are here at 6:15 a.m. because they want to do this.”
In addition, Briggs made the band more visible in the suburbs and Chicago. To increase visibility, he arranged for the band to play for Special Olympics, got renewed exposure at the South Side Irish parade in Chicago’s Beverly community, and even had students perform at Home Depot during Christmas.
He also instituted the Brother Rice “Lyrical Fight Club,” which is a chorus group for 50 young men from the school.
Beverly resident Redmond Millerick, a 2012 Brother Rice graduate, said the chorus was one of the best experiences he had at Brother Rice.
“Getting to help start and be involved in such a new, unique club, and having the chance to sing with some of my closest friends was amazing,” Millerick said. “I’m glad to have been there for the beginning of it.
“This was all made possible by Mr. Briggs, who helped music flourish in the school, reaching students who otherwise might never had such an experience before.
“He is an excellent teacher and friend, and I can’t wait to see the progress he makes with the club in the future,” Millerick said.
The result of this effort positively affected Brother Rice’s music program. The 41-member band expanded to 95 and, this fall, Brother Rice will offer six classes in music, which include three levels of band, chorus, music appreciation and AP Music Theory.
Briggs has embraced technology as a way to encourage his students. When the band performed recently in Florida, he videotaped each member sending good night wishes home.
The tapes immediately were posted on the Internet so that parents could see their children were safely tucked into their rooms at night.
Twitter, a social networking website, allows Briggs to post messages to the band members so that at any given time, students know band schedules or can check on any type of band information Briggs wants to send.
“Technology lets us speak the language of the kids and lets us adapt to the way they best learn,” Briggs said. “I also send weekly email to the parents so they are always in the loop.
“I also do a podcast (an Internet audio recording) that kids and parents can hear, too. I discuss practice habits, or major and minor keys, so students can go home and continue to learn,” Briggs said.
“This is a 21st century world, heavy in technology. We can teach students how to use it responsibly, and we can interact and learn outside the classroom. There are so many opportunities for learning.’
“”I love these kids, the faculty, the staff,” Briggs said. “This is so much fun, and I think kids should have fun doing this. Some teachers are good about saying, ‘No,’ but I’m all about saying, ‘Yes.’ Education is not about trying to get kids to fit into a mold.”
Brother Rice principal James Antos said he is happy about the energy Briggs gives the program.
“Our team has wanted to increase music opportunities for four or more years,” Antos said. “Dan is high energy, high octane. He really wants the kids to develop their talents — what you teach kids is more than opening up the book. I love his unbridled enthusiasm, and we are so pleased to have him.”
What’s ahead? Briggs believes the band can grow to at least 300 students. He also has plans for more trips, including an upcoming trip to Vienna, where students can experience music in the same venue as Beethoven.
“I am dedicated to this school, to the kids, and to the people here,” Briggs said. “Brother Rice is worth the dedication.”