DJ Alstadt—Sharing His Passion for Music with Students Around the World

February 2014 View more

nm-dj-alstadt-3DJ Alstadt loves his job. Just spend a few minutes talking to him about his position as director of bands for Naperville Central High School and you get caught up in his excitement.

Alstadt has been teaching at Naperville Central for 15 years and has served as director of bands for the last 14. “I am blessed to work alongside a tremendous team of colleagues in a community that values the arts,” Alstadt says. In addition to overseeing the band program, Alstadt conducts two curricular bands, a jazz band, the marching band, chamber ensembles and the pep band. Under his direction, the music program has been recognized as a Grammy Signature School.

Alstadt found himself drawn to music while growing up in Sandwich, Illinois. “My high school band director was a huge influence on me.” Both in high school and college, Alstadt performed with two national drum and bugle corps: The Cadets and The Cavaliers. During this time he competed alongside students from around the world, won a world championship title and performed in the closing ceremonies of the Atlanta Summer Olympics.

Inspired by his father’s own desire to teach, Alstadt pursued a bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Western Illinois University (WIU) and a masters degree from Vandercook College of Music. “My dad always told me how he regretted not becoming a teacher so I thought I’d give it a try. Sixteen years later and I love it more now than I did when I first graduated.”

“High school is a critical time in life to figure out who you are and where you belong,” Alstadt explains. “I enjoy seeing the kids stretch their musical abilities and become better than they think they can be.” He says children learn important life skills in music programs such as teamwork, patience, accepting critique, creative thinking, learning how to lead as well as how to follow. He also stresses life-long learning. Alstadt himself continues taking lessons in his free time. “I’ve been playing the trumpet for 30 years and I am just now starting to understand how to make a good sound.”

His commitment has paid off. Alstadt was named WIU’s Distinguished Alumni of the College of Fine Arts and Communications in 2012, Outstanding Chicagoland Music Educator in 2012, Office Max Innovative Teacher of the Year in 2011 and has been profiled in “50 Directors Who Make a Difference” in School Band and Orchestra Magazine.

“The musical opportunities DJ creates in the band department are endless,” says Lynne Nolan, dean of student activities. “Many students have told me that they didn’t know how much they loved music until they were in band at NCHS.”

In addition to inspiring students to grow musically, he also encourages them to become good citizens. Last year, Alstadt watched a video about The Landfill Harmonic Orchestra, a group of poverty-stricken children in South America who perform on instruments made from recycled trash. “It shows not only their tremendous need, but their strong desire to build a music education program,” he explained. Soon after, Alstadt serendipitously jumped at a chance to participate in WIU’s initiative to bring used instruments to impoverished communities in Bahia, Brazil. Instruments are so highly valued in those areas that some are often worth more than houses. Alstadt and his students have collected used instruments over the past year and will send them to WIU in March. “We are so fortunate to live in this community. We need to reach out and help others. I want the kids to see the big picture of what goes on in the world and how we can make a difference.”

Photo by Robyn Sheldon