By Bob Buttitta
West Ranch Band Boosters
It took Rodney Schueller roughly 45 minutes to decide he wanted to be the new director of instrumental music and director of bands at West Ranch High School.
“Doc” Schueller has enjoyed a successful career in bands and music education for over 23 years, including serving as a director of bands on both the high school and university levels in Texas and Illinois. But at the urging of his longtime friends, Peggi Stoffel, the music director at Rancho Pico Junior High, and her husband Larry, director of bands at CSUN, Schueller decided to apply for the position at West Ranch that opened up when former director Stephen Hufford decided to leave teaching to help care for his two young children.
The track record of success that the West Ranch marching program has achieved since the school opened was what initially piqued Schueller’s interest in the job, but it was an impromptu 45-minute rehearsal session arranged during his June visit to the campus that convinced Schueller this was the place he wanted to be.
“They put together an ad hoc rehearsal for me with a group of the student musicians and I was immediately impressed at how well they played, and how enthusiastic they were about the program,” Schueller said. “Meeting the students, seeing the campus and the facilities sold me on this being the place I wanted to be.”
The West Ranch marching band has a long history of success, including having won the Southern California School Band and Orchestra Association championship twice in the last three years. The pressure of taking over such a highly successful program was actually an enticement to Schueller, who said throughout his career he has thrived on facing such challenges.
“I have come to realize that every situation or job has its challenges and I have learned to not only accept the challenges but to embrace them,” Schueller said. “Do I feel a little extra pressure coming here to a program that has had so much success? Yes I do, but I am driven to not only maintain that success but to build on it and make it even more successful.”
Schueller is the program’s fourth director in five years, but according to Josh Franck, co-president of the West Ranch Music Booster Club, the program’s ability to perform at a high level has not been compromised, thanks to the strong infrastructure of the program.
“Brian Leff (director of jazz studies), Julio Diaz (percussion director) and Esther Kamp (color guard director) and her husband Jay have been invaluable during these transitions with their years of experience,” Franck said. “The entire band family has pulled together.”
Franck said the transition with Schueller has been extremely smooth.
“The experience Doc brings with him really can’t be measured,” Franck said. “His music education experience stands on its own, but a music program has a tremendous amount of planning and administrative work that is often overlooked and that can make or break a program. Since he arrived, Doc has worked non-stop to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. Even when the boosters tell him, ‘It’s not necessary for you to be there,’ he still comes to a fundraiser like the car wash to meet the volunteers and to say hi to the kids. Dr. Schueller is ‘all in’ and it’s apparent to the kids and the parents. He moved his family halfway across the country to be here. That speaks to the legacy of this music program.”
Before coming to West Ranch, Schueller had a successful tenure at West Aurora High School, which included leading the wind symphony to several appearances at the University of Illinois SuperState Concert Band Festival.
At West Aurora, marching band was an extracurricular activity and was a non-competitive band that played at football games, parades and other school events. Prior to COVID-19, it was not unusual for the marching band to have anywhere from 250 to 300 members.
The West Ranch marching band isn’t nearly that large, but Schueller said having a group of students who are like-minded and dedicated to the success of the group more than makes up for a lack of size.
“As university band director at Western Illinois I had only 135-140 in the band but everyone played really well so we sounded like a 250-piece marching band,” Schueller said. “It is a very similar story here. When we play with characteristic sounds and we play in tune and together, if you turned your back you would not know the size of our band.”
Schueller said from day one the students have been fantastic, both welcoming and helpful, calling those interactions the best part of the job to this point. He is pleased with the progress his team has made as it gets prepared for competition season that begins in mid-October and culminates with the Southern California Championships.
Getting your band to peak for those big competitions is a challenge that Schueller is excited about. But the challenge that comes with raising funds to ensure every student has the tools needed to maximize their talents gets tougher every year, according to Schueller.
“Money is always an issue and the cost of things has gone up dramatically, making it even more difficult and expensive to run a program,” Schueller said. “Whether it is buying instruments or equipment, repair of instruments and paying to keep quality people, the list goes on and on. We’re lucky to have a strong booster club but the challenge gets greater each year to fundraise in order to ensure we provide every student the best opportunity and experience possible.”
Anyone interested in making a donation to the West Ranch music program can do so at www.westranchmusic.com/donate-1.