If new Palmetto Senior High School band instructor Kennan Torgerson’s name seems a familiar one to students and parents, there is a good reason.
Several years ago, the passionate multi-instrumentalist taught parttime at Palmetto Elementary and, although his position ultimately was eliminated due to budget cuts after just a year, he has maintained ties with the community.
“From my year at Palmetto Elementary, I became friends with the music teacher and have been connected with several of the students through private lessons,” he said. “Many of my private students have had success making it into the Superintendent’s Honors Music Festival, represented Dade County in Florida All-State ensembles and have earned college scholarships. Though I’m officially working in the Palmetto area again, I never really left.”
Torgerson — whose primary instruments are saxophone, flute and clarinet — earned his bachelor’s degree in music education and teaching credential at California State University in Fresno (commonly referred to as Fresno State). Upon completing his undergraduate education, he performed with the Disney All American College Band (Anaheim 2005) and twice toured Japan with the second production of the Tony Award-winning musical Blast!: Music In Extreme in 2006 and 2008.
It was there that he met his wife, Katie. They moved back to Miami, her hometown, and he began teaching as a substitute. After Palmetto Elementary — where he taught kindergarten, second grade and orchestra — he spent a year teaching music at Phyllis Wheatley Elementary School in Miami’s Overtown area.
In 2009, he began studying at Florida International University and earned a master’s degree in jazz performance, receiving a scholarship as the graduate assistant for FIU’s marching band. Leaving FIU with his degree in hand, he took a job for three years teaching music and running the band program at Palm Springs Middle School in Hialeah.
“Part of my mentality is showing the students how to get better when I’m not there by helping them learn how to critique themselves and be their own teachers,” he said. “I see myself more as a facilitator of learning because, in the end, it’s the student who has to open up to the experience and do the learning. I believe it creates an ownership for them in their development.”
Walking the halls of Palmetto High, he regularly sees former (and possibly future) students elated by seeing their first music teacher still doing what he loves. He recently brought the school marching band drum line to Palmetto Elementary to participate in a charity walk-a-thon. It was like a homecoming for all of them, seeing the old building and their former teachers.
“It was fun, because we got to see all of the teachers that I used to teach with, who some of my current students had classes with back then,” he said. “I got to see some of their younger siblings — some of whom I’ve taught in private lessons. It felt good seeing so many familiar faces.”
Looking ahead, Torgerson is eager to instill the discipline music requires in his students regardless of whether or not they decide to make it their lives’ work, as he did. What is important, he insisted, is that responsibility, reliability, representing the school with pride, all while having fun making music, is what the students should experience through the program.
“A band program develops in students a commitment to their environment and fellow classmates,” he said. “They’re held accountable for things. All of these lessons, these skills they learn, stretch past the music and serve them in anything they decide to do.”