Many young college students see college as an investment on which they will be able to expect returns for the entirety of their working lives, or as a gateway to greater knowledge than they might attain on their own. But nearly-62-year-old former band director Gregory Rupert doesn’t seem to gain anything except personal satisfaction from being in the Tech band.
Jim Robken, Tech band director, wasn’t sure what to make of Rupert’s request to be a student in band when Rupert approached him this past summer.
“When he came in to ask me about it, I said ‘What? No way. Why?’” Robken said.
But eventually, Rupert’s earnestness won Robken over. “I said, ‘You’ll get no special treatment,’ And he said, ‘That’s all I ask,’” Robken said.
Rupert, who has degrees in music education and elementary education and has served as a band director in four towns, said he became excited with the idea of participating in a college band when he went to a band day, an event in which band directors play in a band along with band students, at Northwestern State University.
At first, Rupert’s presence in the band was something of a curiosity to younger members, said Scott Thompson, a senior music education major who plays percussion in the band.
“First day initial impact, I think, was curiosity,” Thompson said. “But it’s been a good experience that everyone has adjusted to.”
Rupert thinks that the kids weren’t expecting much from him in the beginning.
“At first, I think, they were betting on how long it would take me to sit out the rehearsal,” Rupert said. “But I fooled them, and they loved it.”
Since then, Rupert, who plays the mellophone in the marching band and the French horn in the concert band, has fit into the LA Tech band with ease, according to Robken.
“He’s slipped into the role of band student perfectly,” Robken said. “He’s doing everything he’s supposed to do and he’s been doing it with the biggest smile I think I’ve ever seen.”
Rupert is relishing the band student experience, Robken said.
“I think it’s less for him about learning than participation,” Robken said. “He’s come up to me several times and told me how much he loves it.”
Rupert is happy to be one of the students in the band rather than its mentor. “In the band, I can enjoy the music, the kids and the discipline, and the occasional chance to mentor and teach, without the responsibility,” Rupert said. “In other words, all the fun.”
Rupert works very hard, according to Thompson.
“He’s very willing to be on the same level as the students even though he’s had many more years of experience,” Thompson said. “He’s willing to do all the work needed in every ensemble that he’s in.”
Victoria Childres, a junior trumpet player in band majoring in music education, said she is also impressed with Rupert’s enthusiasm. “I think it’s awesome that he’s here, and if you’re older and still able to do it, then do it,” Childres said.
Ryan Hawkins, a junior business management major, said she likes the fact that Rupert is in band. “Personally, I think it is pretty cool,” Hawkins said. “College is a diverse world and I have no problem with an elderly man playing in the Tech band.”
Mathew Cardenas, a freshman in percussion studying music education, echoes Childres’s sentiments. “He’s a great person,” said Cardenas. “I know he wouldn’t hold back if someone asked him for help.”
Rupert enjoys interacting with the kids as much as he enjoys band itself. “The kids have been amazing to me,” he said.
Cardenas said the two once played laser-tag and bumped into one another during a team-based form of the game.
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