Story last updated at 4:37 p.m. Thursday, June 13, 2002

Homer band instructor strikes a chord with BP
by Carey James
Staff Writer

photo: news
  Photo by Carey James, Homer News
Bill Searle, Homer high School and Middle School Band Instructor.  
Homer High School and Middle School band instructor Bill Searle estimates he has taught some 4,000 young minds how to blast out a tune or two.

But after 22 years teaching music, 13 in Homer, Searle said he's not tired of his occupation one bit.

"It's still fun. It's still fresh," he said. "I'm fortunate because I get paid for doing my hobby."

Searle was selected as the British Petroleum Teacher of Excellence for the year in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District last week. Along with the recognition comes $1,500 to use toward education, which Searle said he hopes to use to attend a jazz improvization class at a Fairbanks music festival this summer.

"I was really surprised," Searle said. "It's nice of the parents to nominate me, and it's nice to have British Petroleum recognize teachers."

But Searle said he doesn't need the award to feel good about his job. Despite the long hours and often "noisy" nature of life as a band director, Searle professes his love for his occupation unprompted. He came to teaching music after playing saxophone in the Army. Despite original intentions to be a wildlife biologist, music struck a chord with Searle.

Long before the BP award, Searle made a name for himself in Homer for tirelessly coaxing show after show of fantastic sound out of the numerous bands he directs. Homer High School principal Ron Keffer said he was immediately impressed with the band program.

"There's no question about it," Keffer said. "My experience overall has been with very good band programs but this goes way beyond good."

Keffer said Searle is able to inspire students to learn the tough pieces by individually connecting with them every time they come into his classroom.

"He develops an intense series of relationships with his students," Keffer said. "It's not an impersonal process."

Searle said students appreciate a challenge and tend to rise to them.

"Kids want to perform well," he said. "There's a lot of pride in what they are working on. They want to be challenged."

Beyond the notes, Searle said he sees music as a gateway to the process of learning. '

"Music education teaches kids how to think. There's a lot going on when you are playing a piece of music. It's good mind work. There's a lot of discipline involved," he said.

According to Searle's wife, Viki, Searle has always brought a high level of dedication to his music classrooms.

"Since he started teaching, he has always been energetic and enthusiastic," she said. "I think his passion for music, it spreads to the kids."

For Searle, each year, students also seem to rise to a new level, and surpass the productions of the years before, even when he thinks that's not possible.

"That's the power of music," he said with a laugh. "There's no business like show business."