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Andrew Lovett, Middle School Band Teacher

Story by Kathy McPherson

Andrew Lovett remembers his grandparents forcing him to take piano lessons as a 6-year-old. “I didn't do anything else, any other extracurricular activities,” he said. “I think it was an attempt to get me to try something because I was not into sports. A lot of my family, they're really sports people.”

Lovett explained that his father went to Savannah State University on a basketball scholarship, and his paternal grandfather ran track and played trombone at Benedict College.

Piano lessons set him on a path to teaching music, but participating in his high school marching band sealed the deal for Lovett, who has taught instrumental music at the Durham Academy Middle School since 2019.

Lovett kept up with the piano lessons — his grandparents gave him a choice after the first year, and he opted to continue through elementary school — but when he got to middle school, he switched to saxophone.

“I was eager to try saxophone because on my mom's side of the family I have an uncle who is a saxophone player,” Lovett said. He explained that Pete Belasco, an instrumental musician and vocalist, “is married to my mom's sister. Since they lived in New York and I was in South Carolina, I didn't see them all the time. I might see them maybe once a year, but seeing my Uncle Pete and hearing him play was so much fun when I was a kid. It made me want to do saxophone in middle school.”

Photo by Kathy McPherson


Years of piano lessons meant that sixth-grader Lovett already knew how to read music. “I felt like I was ahead of everybody, and band was the class that I excelled in the most. I took advantage of every opportunity,” including playing saxophone with an after-school festival band that performed at Carowinds amusement park and also performing solos and with ensembles in middle school.

By the time he got to high school, Lovett had moved to Charlotte, and he said he was “lucky to go to a really big high school that had lots of [music] offerings. I went to South Mecklenburg and I did as much band as I could there. I did every music class that was available to me. I even did orchestra for two years. I sang in men's ensemble and I did marching band, earning leadership positions in marching band. I think that was what really made me want to be a music teacher. I would kind of envision myself conducting really fun and difficult band literature or coming up with competitive marching band shows, and things like that, so it became my path pretty early.”

High school was also when Lovett met drumline instructor Chris Hathcock, “a great mentor who is still a mentor to me now.” 

When it was time for college, Lovett auditioned for music schools and was awarded a music scholarship to his top choice, UNC-Greensboro. “It's a really rigorous program. It's the best music school in North Carolina, in my opinion, as far as music education and performance goes.”

Prior to coming to DA in 2019, Lovett taught band at a school in Charlotte and at nearby Duke School. He also began playing with local salsa bands; assisting his mentor, Hathcock, with the Jordan High School band program; and working with the woodwind section of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Marching Tar Heels. 

At the same time, Lovett was working on his master’s degree at UNC-Greensboro, and he completed it just before coming to Durham Academy in 2019.

Andrew Lovett directs a Middle School Band Class

Photos by Michael Branscom


It was a particularly exciting time to join the school as an arts educator, with plans in the works for the Arts & World Languages Center (AWL). Lovett was able to offer input on the design of the band room, which includes plenty of space for rehearsing as a large group, as well as for individual practice. The AWL opened in spring 2021.

Students participate in band as part of their Explorations rotation in fifth and sixth grades, so Lovett has the opportunity to teach every fifth- and sixth-grader as well as seventh- and eighth-graders who choose to continue with band as an Elective course.

When fifth- and sixth-graders enter Lovett’s classroom for their band Explorations course, “they're trying something new,” he said. “We're not really doing conservatory style here. What I love about it, really, is just that it's fun. 

“When I was growing up, the messages that were told to me by my family, by my adults, were things like work hard, and you can do whatever you want and be whatever you want to be, which is kind of true. It's not a bad message. They also taught me that you should do something for a living that's fun or fulfilling in some sort of way. And I think that's actually really good advice because it has to be sustainable.” 

Lovett, who also serves as a sixth-grade advisor, said he feels “really lucky that I get to do something fun with kids. You don't have to be especially creative to make music fun. Music is just fun because it's music. Kids come in here with an expectation of fun, they come in here wanting to actually do the thing. … If you're a math teacher, you might be the only one passionate [about math] and you might have to get everyone to come along with you. That's not the case with me. Kids just want to make music.”

He also wants them to know about all kinds of music. 

Photo by Kathy McPherson

“I'm trying to develop an American music curriculum. I mean American music in the sense of people like that,” Lovett said and pointed to large framed posters in the band room of artists who recorded on the Fania label, as well as funk and soul greats and jazz greats. 

Lovett said he only learned about the Fania label last year. “I know a lot of the artists that are on that [poster], like Celia Cruz and Tito Fuente. We've done some of that music here. I've actually played with some of those people, like Roberto Roena. …

“All of that music — soul, hip-hop, rock, salsa — it's all American music even though I don't think people think of it that way. When we think of American music, in my experience, a lot of people think of folk stuff. But this is especially modern and I want to kind of rearticulate the way we talk about it, think about it and appreciate it. … I think it could be a good way to really encourage diversity, too, in what we're learning about.” 

Music has been a part of Lovett’s life for so long that “it feels kind of like a daily activity — something that's as normal as exercising, going on a jog. Some people take it really seriously and do it all the time, but it's something that's healthy for everyone to do, even if it's just a little. And it's just really fun to me. It doesn't feel like work when I'm doing it. When we're having a good rehearsal in wind ensemble, time goes by so quickly. And when the students achieve, you're able to push them and do more.”

Lovett’s seventh- and eighth-grade students are grouped into wind ensemble and percussion ensemble rather than by grade level. “The wind ensemble is 25 [students], while the percussion is seven rowdy boys. It's awesome. It's been really good to differentiate them. It's easier to teach that way and it's more fun for the students.”

Lovett is primarily a saxophone player — weekends often find him performing with the Orquesta K’che salsa band — but he can also play clarinet, flute and piano. “I can play a little bit of electric bass because I did upright [bass] in orchestra. I can do rudimental snare drumming, like for percussion, because I did drumline. I knew my stick tricks and things like that. But as far as all the other instruments, I only know them well enough to start beginners. … I tell brass players, if you're really into it, you're probably going to be out-playing me by the time you get to ninth grade, and that's a good goal.” 

He wants students to continue making music long after they have left his class, “because in my experience, music making happens in lots of different contexts with lots of different people. 

“I think that's kind of why I've been able to do it for so long. It never gets boring. There's always new music, and there's always new groups, and there's always new people that want to make music. I hope that this is only a starting point, just one blip in the journey, that they keep going and they come back and tell me about it.”