Festus’ new director of bands already has made her mark in the world of music.
Stephanie Sekelsky, 47, is part of a listing in the Guinness Book of World Records.
She was among an 835-member aggregation that gathered in Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium in December 2018 to participate in TubaChristmas, an annual event held at sites around the country.
“I heard they were going to try to break the Guinness record (of 502 tubas, baritones, euphoniums and sousaphones),” said Sekelsky, who took four of her students with her to the event. “I told my students about it and they said it sounded like fun. The schedule worked out, and it was great. We played Christmas music on tubas.”
Musicians in the record-setting orchestra ranged in age from 11 to 86.
“We sat right behind some musicians from the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra,” Sekelsky said. “That was pretty cool in some respects, but no pressure there, right?”
Sekelsky, who was the director of bands at Warrensburg High School for 11 years, started the Festus band director job on Wednesday. She is in charge of the band program for students in sixth grade through high school at three schools.
The position opened last summer when longtime director of bands Chris Auchly retired for health reasons.
During the past school year, assistant band director Scott Evans served as the interim band director for the district, and retired North County band director Shane Vergas taught sixth- through eighth-grade band students.
Evans opted not to apply for the band director job, which was filled March 19 when the Festus R-6 Board of Education voted unanimously to hire Sekelsky.
Festus Superintendent Link Luttrell said Sekelsky will be paid $64,550 as a teacher, plus a $6,749 stipend to serve as the director of bands.
Sekelsky said she was paid $70,124 during her last year in Warrensburg.
Luttrell said 45 people applied for the Festus job.
“We ended up conducting eight interviews, and all of them had experience leading bands,” he said. “That speaks to how the instrumental music program is viewed outside of our district.”
Luttrell said two of the eight interviewees were called back and given extensive tours of the district before Sekelsky got the nod.
“She has led two premiere programs on the western side of the state,” Luttrell said. “She has a vast amount of experience.”
Sekelsky said she’s eager to get to work with Evans and fellow assistant band director Devin Lorenz.
“They have been awesome helping to get me up to speed here,” she said.
Sekelsky, a graduate of Washington High School, earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of Central Missouri and then went to work at Missouri Valley College in Marshall.
“At the same time I was teaching there, I was working on my master’s (in trumpet performance),” she said.
After four years, she was hired as the band director at Clinton High School.
“It was just me there,” she said. “I was the only director. It was not a big group, but I learned the nuts and bolts of teaching there. I taught sixth-graders, who were beginners in all the instruments, all the way up to marching band and concert band in high school. It was a really good learning experience.”
A decade later, she took the band director job at Warrensburg.
“I was going into a really strong program, and I was already living in Warrensburg with my husband, Michael. So it was nice not having to travel 30 minutes to and from work,” she said.
Sekelsky said during her tenure at Warrensburg, the high school band program more than doubled from 50 to 60 students to 130 to 140, which is comparable with the Festus Marching Tigers’ roster.
She said she considered leaving Warrensburg after her husband retired as dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Central Missouri.
“My siblings are all on this side of the state, and when my husband retired, we started looking at somewhere closer to family,” she said. “When I heard the Festus position opened up, I knew it was a good job, so I thought applying would be a pie-in-the-sky kind of thing, but I figured, ‘Why not?’ After a couple of interviews, here I am.”
Luttrell said he’s happy the district hired her.
“One thing that spoke to her was that she taught for 10 years (in Clinton) and 11 years (in Warrensburg),” he said. “She’s not going to be a one-and-done or two-and-done. She will help provide continued stability.”
Sekelsky said it was a tough decision to leave her students in Warrensburg behind, particularly because with schools around the state closed because of the pandemic, she’s not been able to bid a proper farewell.
“I’ve had to do it by email, or by Google Classroom or some other way,” she said. “They’re having a graduation in July, and I hope to get back there and say good-bye in person then.”
Equally challenging is assuming a new job when so much is up in the air.
“At this point, we still don’t know whether we’re going to go to school yet. If we do go to school, what will band classes look like? We don’t know. But there’s a strong foundation here, and there are good people here. And in education, we’re all on the same playing field. Trying to plan anything right now is impossible, but hopefully we’ll get through this sooner rather than later.”
Sekelsky and her husband have been busy moving into their new home south of Festus and getting their two Shetland sheepdogs, Dolly and Zippy, acclimated to their new surroundings.
The two also have two grown children and five grandchildren.