Choir director Taylor Marshall and band director Justin Heinekamp often work together on musicals and events for students in the performing arts departments in Sandwich School District 430.
Marshall and Heinekamp split their time every day between Sandwich Middle School and Sandwich High School teaching sixth through 12th graders, and work together after school on nearly all of their department’s extracurricular programs.
They both grew up in suburban Chicago, both have a lifelong obsession with music and both graduated from Western Illinois University. But Marshall, 25, is in her second year of teaching while Heinekamp, 37, is in his 13th.
Heinekamp is the fine arts department chair and has been part of the hiring process for almost every other current member of the department. He said everything the performing arts department puts on is a team effort.
Marshall and Heinekamp collaborate daily over lunch, when they help each other brainstorm about classroom issues and plan events such as musicals, competitions and department trips.
Many of the different ensembles in the music department share students, so Marshall said it can be a challenge to balance the schedules. She said it is important that they coordinate and cooperate well, to make sure the kids can be in the groups they want without having to sacrifice because of overlapping practices or rehearsals.
In addition to Marshall and Heinekamp, Sandwich High School drama club director Kevin Pajor and Sandwich Middle School band teacher Erin Killey are vital members of Sandwich’s performing arts team.
Heinekamp said getting to talk with the other team members and collaborate every day is vital to the program. “We just kind of do everything together.”
Heinekamp grew up in Naperville where he attended Naperville Central High School before attending Western Illinois University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in music education with a minor in jazz studies in 2009. He was hired by the Sandwich School District shortly after graduating and has been with the music department for 13 years. While teaching in Sandwich, he went to graduate school at Vandercook College of Music in Chicago, where he earned his master’s degree in music education in 2015.
Heinekamp first joined his school band in fourth grade, as a trumpeter, and said by eighth grade he knew he wanted to be a band director. He was inspired first by his eighth grade band director, Jim Stombres, and said the notion was cemented by his high school band directors.
“He [Stombres] was just amazing, he gave us so many opportunities and really connected with what I wanted to do,” Heinekamp said. “I just wanted to be like him.”
Marshall grew up in Plainfield, where she attended Plainfield East High School. She first joined choir in fifth grade and said she was never academically inclined or heavily invested in her classwork, so choir always had been the thing that she really loved about school.
“It was like my happy place in high school,” Marshall said. “All my friends were in choir, and I did all things choir all the time.”
Marshall said she decided to be a music teacher in her senior year of high school, after being heavily inspired by her high school choir teacher, Aubrey Dunham.
“She [Dunham] was the person that made me fall in love with choir, and the teacher I had the best relationship with. I wanted to be that person for somebody else.”
During her senior year, in addition to performing with the senior ensemble, Marshall helped Dunham direct the freshman ensembles. She said that was when she realized what she wanted to do.
“Music is, a lot of times, a vehicle for them to learn everything else. They learn work ethic, perseverance, how to work together, responsibility, dedication and communication. There’s so much about their experience that music allows us to teach them.”— Justin Heinekamp, Sandwich School District 430 band director
“I was like, yeah, I could do this for the rest of my life,” Marshall said.
After high school, Marshall earned her bachelor’s degree in music education from Western Illinois University in 2020. After graduating, she worked as a substitute teacher for a semester while looking for a permanent position. Her first in-person interview was with the Sandwich School District, and Heinekamp was one of the interviewers.
Marshall started her first full-time teaching job as the choir director in the Sandwich School District at the beginning of the 2021 school year. When Marshall and Heinekamp started working together last year, she was the youngest teacher in the district, and he was on his 12th year.
Marshall said as a young teacher, she sometimes has to work a little harder to command the kids’ respect, especially with high school students, but said it definitely makes it easier to connect with them.
“I think it helps more than it hurts,” Marshall said. “They feel more comfortable talking to me about high school problems and stuff like that because I am younger.”
Marshall said she frequently leans on Heinekamp’s experience for advice and guidance. She said he always has great ideas, and she likes having his support at work.
“When I was subbing, it was like I was an island by myself, and I didn’t know what I was doing, because it was my first year,” Marshall said. “It’s been really nice to have a team to work with.”
Heinekamp said he likes being able to help out however he can, recalling how chaotic his first years as a teacher were.
“Those first few years are just a trip. You just have no idea what’s going on.” Heinekamp said. “I remember that, and I would not want to just be in isolation, doing my thing.”
Marshall described Heinekamp as a super, super hard worker. She said he’s good at everything, he will say yes to anything and is always helping out wherever he is needed.
Marshall said while their experience and expertise differ quite a bit, they have similar teaching styles and learning objectives in the classrooms.
Heinekamp described Marshall as someone who gets things done. He said once they set a goal, she doesn’t stop working until she’s achieved it.
Heinekamp said with their similar backgrounds, both growing up in the suburbs and going to the same college, they have a lot of the same base knowledge and teaching styles. He said their similar work ethics is a big part of what makes them a great team.
“Every concert cycle we get to play new music and every year we have new kids and new instruments. I love that. I don’t think I could do the same thing every year.”— Taylor Marshall, Sandwich School District 430 choir director
Marshall and Heinekamp agreed that while there are many similarities between their job and the other teachers in the district, the main difference from being a classroom teacher and teaching music is that the kids in band and choir aren’t forced to be there.
“Everyone that is in music wants to be there,” Marshall said. “There’s a different vibe, because all the kids are there and ready to work, whereas in a math class, you’re going to have students that hate math.”
Heinekamp said he loves the variety of teaching different types of music between the band ensembles, classes and extracurriculars.
“It’s not static; we get to change, we get to grow, we get to adjust,” Heinekamp said. “Every concert cycle, we get to play new music and every year we have new kids and new instruments. I love that. I don’t think I could do the same thing every year.”
Heinekamp said the biggest advantage of being a music teacher, as opposed to teaching one subject, is seeing the kids grow throughout the years.
“In this position, I get to see them from sixth grade to 12th grade. So, from when they’re 11 until they go off to college,” Heinekamp said. “I don’t think a lot of teachers get to do that.”
Marshall said for music teachers, the bigger classroom sizes can be a challenge, especially at the middle school age. She said music departments also require a lot of recruitment, but, on the other hand, she has less papers to grade than an English teacher.
“All educators have their own challenges. We’re all teachers,” Marshall said. “We’re all here to teach something that we’re passionate about.”
Heinekamp said the No. 1 challenge is time. He said with all the extracurricular activities, it can be extremely hard to find a balance.
Heinekamp is the only band director at Sandwich High School. In addition to his daily band classes at the middle school and high school, he runs the competitive marching band, pep band, jazz band, musicals, summer band programs and more.
Heinekamp said he personally writes more than 150 purchase orders per year for everything from instruments and costumes to things behind the scenes, such as sheet music, sound equipment, stands, chairs, lights, etc. He said while it is a lot of work, he feels blessed to be able to do what he loves for a living.
“I love that we get to make something together. It’s like a team, but there’s no competition. Everyone has to do their part. There’s no bench. Whatever level they’re at, we’re all here trying to do the same thing, just make something.”
Heinekamp recalled a conversation in which he was complaining to his father, who once was a banker and is now a pastor, when his father told him, “It isn’t in every career that you get to change peoples’ lives and see that change every day.”
“I think about that all the time,” Heinekamp said, “It gets me through a lot of the long-hour times.”
Heinekamp said his ultimate goal as a teacher isn’t to make band directors and professional musicians, but to find a way to get everyone in the room to engage with the music in some way. He said some kids are there for only the social aspect and some are trying to get really good at their instruments, but they all should all take something away from the band experience.
“Music is, a lot of times, a vehicle for them to learn everything else,” Heinekamp said. “They learn work ethic, perseverance, how to work together, responsibility, dedication and communication. There’s so much about their experience that music allows us to teach them.”
Marshall said the main thing she has learned in her first two years teaching is that there always is room to improve. She said while she is not going to be the perfect teacher right away, she reminds herself that as long as she is creating a healthy atmosphere where kids can enjoy choir, she is doing OK.
“If the only thing that I’m doing is making this a safe place for kids to be, then I’m doing enough,” Marshall said. “Everything after that is a bonus for me.”