Michigan City High School (MCHS)’s band program is a true jewel for the community. From marching band performances at football games to throwing huge concerts like “One City, One Sound,” the program offers a creative and musical outlet for many students attending Michigan City schools. To make it all run smoothly, someone needs to be at the helm with vision and purpose. Frank Gast, director of bands at MCHS, is that someone.
“Currently, we're running two full high school bands. We have a freshman band and a more advanced band,” said Gast. “We run a percussion class that is separate from those that fills in the kids for the different ensembles. We also run a marching band in the fall, a pep band, and a jazz band.”
Managing so many different bands requires discipline and passion. Gast discovered that needed discipline and passion through his own experiences as a young musician. He grew up in Chesterton and joined the middle school band at the behest of a friend in seventh grade. From there, Gast’s music teachers cultivated the spark of interest into a pyre of passion.
“It’s the age-old tale; I had some influential teachers when I was in middle school and high school, and it just sparked something in me,” said Gast. “When I got to my junior and senior year, I got serious about it and I thought, ‘This is what I want to do.’”
Gast went on to study at Ball State University in Muncie before beginning his career as a band director in 2004. He taught in Phoenix, Arizona until 2011 before returning to Chesterton to be close to family following the birth of his first child. While his then-wife served as a teacher in Michigan City, Gast worked in Kouts, Indiana until a position opened up at MCHS.
“When MCHS had an opening for the head band director position, it seemed like a no-brainer to come over to Michigan City. At that point, we had a kid going into school, and we were actually on three different spring breaks, different everything. It was all over the place,” said Gast.
Gast interviewed with the principal at MCHS and was soon stepping into the program as the new band director. At the time, the MCHS band had been through several directors in a short period of time, and it was beginning to affect the morale of the students.
“I don’t think the morale of the program when I got here could hit a lower level,” said Gast. “What the kids really wanted was stability, and the community wanted stability. They wanted to see their program take life again.”
Once it was clear that Gast was in it for the long haul, the community opened its arms in full support of all his efforts. From reviving the Marching Wolves following COVID-19 to showing up at every game and concert, it’s been truly incredible how much the school and community are willing to support their band.
“They've been extremely supportive. We were able to raise about $50,000 to go to get some new uniforms; that hadn't been done in over 20 years,” said Gast. “The community came out and supported us. They've been supportive of kids going to Florida to perform at Magic Kingdom. Even when we have been down on our numbers, it's pretty amazing to watch the community support the kids when they're in a football game. When they perform, the community will be quiet and watch, and they'll applaud. It's been pretty rewarding.”
That opportunity to show off everything his students have been practicing is Gast’s favorite part of the job.
“The best part is getting to the performances and showcasing what we are capable of doing. People don't realize how good their kids are. When you perform, the parents get to see and be amazed,” said Gast. “That's really what the core of band is—it's about performances. It's about going out there and doing different things. You see a lot of kids really blossom, and that's what I find the most exciting and rewarding.”
Outside of working with the MCHS Wolves, Gast likes to perform in the summers with a local band as well as spending time with his three children. He’s felt very welcomed in Michigan City, and he’s especially proud of the city and his students for their resilience throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When you have something like a global pandemic, it changes your perspective a little bit and how you work with the program,” said Gast. “The program and the community are very resilient. They have come back; numbers are going up. I'm watching kids have success again, not just in the arts but, athletically and other things. I think that is important.”
Gast hopes to continue pushing the MCHS music programs further for as long as he serves the school.
“I think a band is an important part of the school culture, and I've been really excited and really impressed with what's been able to happen and what we're gonna be able to do going forward,” said Gast. “I see a bright future for what they're doing. The kids are the ones that do the work. It's been humbling to watch their growth, and I just want to be here to support that and continue their maturation as we go forward.”