Music man: South Portland band students reunite for director’s 25th year

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Some hadn’t seen each other for almost a quarter century.

Others married after meeting in band class.

But all 80 South Portland High School band alumni had something special in common when they came together again to play Wednesday night: Craig Skeffington.

Skeffington, band and music teacher at the school, has taught thousands of students over the last 25 years. Several have become music teachers, inspired by the veteran educator. His office walls are covered with photos of each class he’s taught, and collages of the 25 senior classes that have passed through his band room.

After last year’s spring concert, Skeffington said, he was looking at the wall and thinking about his former students, curious about what they were doing in their post-high school lives.

He posted a message on Facebook inquiring about interest in an alumni concert and, by the next morning, 300 former students had been tagged. A year later, 80 of those former students joined the current high school band to perform Wednesday in this year’s spring concert.

Students ranged in age from 18 to 40, and some hadn’t picked up their instruments in 15 years when they met to practice May 29, the day before the concert.

Jen Fletcher, a 2012 graduate of Skeffington’s class, teaches music to junior high and high school students at Sacopee Valley schools in Hiram.

Fletcher, who has been involved in music since fifth grade, played the saxophone in band for Skeffington and continued her musical education at the University of Maine at Orono.

“Craig is one of the most amazing teachers,” she said. “He’s the reason I went into music education. There aren’t even words to describe him – he pushes every student to be the best they can, always.”

“It’s just like being home again,” Fletcher said of being in the rehearsal room at the high school.

Fletcher said she often models her teaching style after Skeffington’s.

“I use ‘Skeffisms’ daily,” she said of words of encouragement or daily sayings she picked up from her former teacher.

Skeffington, who plays the trumpet in the Portland Jazz Orchestra, said his path to teaching was nontraditional.

He was an unengaged college student when he left to join the U.S. Army. While in the Army, Skeffington played in the band and learned to write music.

“When I came out, I knew what I wanted to do,” he said of teaching. He enrolled in college again, and earned a degree in music theory.

Music education teaches discipline, teamwork, respect and responsibility, which, Skeffington said, isn’t just for band class, but are skills for life.

Skeffington’s students often circle back. He said many of the teachers of the schools’ iconic marching band program are former students. “It’s a loyalty thing,” he said. “There’s a history of kids coming back to work in the program.”

John Ambrose, who graduated in 2000, maintains an enduring friendship from band class with Ryan Gay. Ambrose plays the role of an uncle to Gay’s children.

Ambrose said learning from Skeffington was wonderful as a young student because he was exposed to music and music theory at a high level. He said Skeffington affected many students with his approach, and with his expectations.

“It was fun to be good, essentially,” Ambrose said of the talent in the program.

Kathy Mills, who also graduated in 2000, said she remembers nudging Ambrose when she spotted a fellow band member with bleached blond hair walking onto the field, and telling him she had a crush on the freshman.

“He looked just like Lance Bass from N’SYNC, and I liked everything about him – except for his jeans,” Mills said.

The Bass lookalike turned out to be Alex Mills. The pair reconnected years later in 2006 – while working with the marching band – and eventually married.

“We’re all connected because of South Portland band,” Fletcher said. “Even though there are people here that graduated the year I was born, we’re all family.”

And Skeffington is their patriarch.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@the forecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JulietteLaaka.

Craig Skeffington is celebrating his 25th year teaching band at South Portland High School. His office walls are covered with photographs of former students, some of whom came back to play at the spring concert May 30.

Eighty former band students came together May 30 to play in the spring concert at South Portland High School.

Kathy and Alex Mills met in band at South Portland High School. They later reconnected through teaching in the marching band program, and married.

Ryan Gay, left, and John Ambrose have been friends since their time at South Portland High School. They met in Craig Skeffington’s band class and came back to the school May 30 to play in the spring concert.

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