It’s seven in the morning: coffee already in hand, new orchestra director Adam Keda heads to the orchestra room, greets the students waiting outside and unlocks the room doors. In the minutes he has before class starts, he skims a few emails and makes a run to the copy room. It’s been only a few weeks since the school year started, but Keda already has a set routine. After all, it’s not too different from his previous job. Even making the mid-day journey from one school to another to teach multiple ensembles isn’t really new.
Last year, Keda — then the orchestra director of both Blue Valley West and Blue Valley Southwest — had not been looking to change districts. Now, just months later, he finds himself in a new school, among new students and facing the decisions that come with how best to ease the transition for both students and himself.
Despite being content with his position at the time, Keda’s interest was first piqued when a friend who was job searching at the time told Keda about the opening at Shawnee Mission East.
“The thought of being a part of the East program interested me because of its long tradition of excellence,” Keda said in an email interview.
His positive impression only deepened after attending the East Area Orchestra Festival and Shawnee Mission East’s final concert last year. In making the decision to change districts, Keda believed that he was doing what was best for him at that point in his career.
Changing schools is one thing on paper, but altogether different in practice. Unlike many other classes, orchestra — no matter what school you go to — is one in which students have the same teacher year after year. The current seniors have been taught by the previous director, Jon Lane, since seventh grade. Back at Blue Valley, Keda has taught the same musicians for years now as well.
“After four years, I had built some very special relationships with my colleagues, students and their parents,” Keda said. “The day I told them I would not be back was very difficult.”
Some of the students were happy for him and some were upset, but most, Keda believes, understood his decision and motivation. Now, it’s time to step forward and meet his new students at Shawnee Mission East.
To ease the transition, Keda doesn’t want to make any major adjustments in his first year. Many things will be familiar to the students. Kansas Music Educators Association’s district auditions are still required for Symphony orchestra members and rotational seating (rather than a fixed assignment for who sits at the front or the back of each instrument section) continues this year.
Of course, there are still a few changes Keda would like to make. For example, he has decided to incorporate more music theory and music listening into the class for the Philharmonic orchestra, composed of students who did not make the audition into Symphonic orchestra, since their smaller class size means more can get done during class time.
“I think keeping mandatory district auditions and rotational seating is just good practice. It keeps everyone on their toes when they know they have to audition or sit in the front row,” Keda said.
Clear-cut decisions of what to change and what to keep aside, Keda is still testing the waters when it comes to other aspects of orchestra.
“The most important thing I have to do for orchestra students is to pick the right music,” Keda said. “This is very difficult when you don’t know the students’ abilities or personalities.”
As he has anticipated, adapting to a different selection of music can be challenging for students. Many haven’t yet warmed to his experimentation with choosing pieces.
“Mr. Keda seems like a great teacher, but he is just underestimating us. As a bass player, I’m terrified of getting the stereotypical bass part, simple to the point of absolute boredom, which he has been giving,” junior bassist Aidan Allison said. “We got into symphony because we are up to the task of challenging ourselves.”
Senior violinist Ben Robinson would rather believe that Keda is just trying not to give out something too hard too soon to accommodate for the younger, less experienced new players in the group. Keda’s spirit and creativity make up for the level of music.
Having taught music for 13 years, Keda too still has confidence in the results of this transition, as the orchestra and conductor continue to adjust to each other.
“Getting to know a different group of kids isn’t necessarily hard or easy, it just takes time,” Keda said. “Every time I’m in front of students I learn something new about them. That learning is amplified when it’s a group of new students.”