Nihil nisi optimum: Nothing but the best. That’s the motto at the Proviso Township Schools, and at Proviso East no one embodies this motto better than their band director Reginald A. Wright.
Through tough discipline, love and concern this musician and educator has gained the respect of his students and coworkers and has taken the Proviso East Jazz and Music Program from a 15 member unit to a whopping 140 member group.
“Both my parents were teachers,” said Wright about his earliest influences. “My father was a science teacher and my mother was an art teacher. They put in 33 and 35 years respectively.”
This South Carolina native said watching his parents growing up formed his earliest inspiration to become an educator himself, but his true musical influences came from a band director in high school.
“I wanted to emulate George Kenny,” he added, laughing. “He is still living and still playing. About five years ago I had him out for my spring concert.”
Kenny, Wright said, along with his father helped this young musician get his first instrument.
“Father bought me a trumpet for $50,” he said, recalling his humble beginnings. “Kenny went to a pawn shop and picked up the best one he could find. That was my start in sixth grade. I wanted to do the same kind of thing … my mind was made up early on that I wanted to be a teacher in a school, directing a band and helping other children.”
And help he has, attracting national attention for his band, whose members are often scouted for band scholarships from places like Jackson State in Mississippi, Hampton State in Virginia, the University of Arkansas and Tennessee State.
Wright’s influences continued in college, at South Carolina’s State University, where he met Reginald Thomason who taught him brass. From college, Wright went on to teach in South Carolina for 15 years and then came up North, teaching in School District 88 for five years and ending up at Proviso East for the last 11 years.
Wright is tough on his kids, calling it like it is and challenging them to their fullest potential but said he admires the students, who often come in early for grueling hours of practice on the field. He is tough because he knows where they are coming from and what they can do”and he will take nothing but the best from them.
“I have a heartfelt yearning to see students learn,” he said. “I spend usually about four years with each student and I see them grow from ninth graders into young adults. My main focus is to get them out of high school and into college. The goal is basically to try to see students live good, productive lives.”
Wright views music as a cornerstone of education and as an essential skill.
“Music is not only international, but it helps many motor skills,” he said. “A musician uses both sides of the brain to play, which is stimulating. You find in districts where people know this about music, those programs never get cut.”
With school budgets being strained, however, Wright has had to be creative, fighting to keep his program alive and vital. He has been raising money for the group through an annual battle of the bands.
As for the future, Wright said he plans to continue as a band director until he can no longer teach. He also wants to consult for other bands and is looking forward to mentoring the next generation of music teachers, beginning with a student who will be doing his practice at Proviso next year.