At the TMEA convention in Dallas in 1961, Jim Van Zandt, an all-state band member from Bonham, Texas, attended a performance of the North Texas State University band under the direction of Maurice McAdow. During that concert, Jim made the decision to attend NTSU (later to become UNT) and to become a band director.
At UNT, he was named the university’s Outstanding Freshman Male and was later named the Outstanding Senior Music Education Major. Upon graduation from UNT, he married his sweetheart Carolyn Moss and then returned to serve as graduate assistant to Maurice McAdow while completing his master’s degree.
Jim’s first band job was in Jayton, Texas, a town of 600 wonderful people. As soon as he moved to Jayton, he was surprised with the news that he would be teaching music to all twelve grades. This experience would prove to be extremely helpful in his future career.
During his two years in Jayton, he traveled to Earl Ray Music Co. in Lubbock or Caldwell Music Co. in Abilene on weekends, picking the brains of veteran directors who gathered every Saturday in the coffee rooms at these stores for “shop talk.” Thanks to this ongoing “staff development,” as well as the mentorship of Bill Woods, Dan Gibbs, Dick Whitten, and Lloyd Cook, his band earned UIL Sweepstakes both of those years.
Jim and Carolyn then moved to the Rio Grande Valley to teach in Raymondville, where Jim’s mentor, Lee Boyd Montgomery, was the “road man” from Claxton Music Company at the time. The students called him “Sergeant Montgomery!”
Jim recalls an afternoon in Raymondville when the superintendent suddenly directed him to run the kids out of the band hall and meet him at his pickup. The superintendent took him fishing at Port Mansfield fishing until about midnight, and then provided professional development on the proper way to clean redfish! You gotta obey the boss!
The Van Zandts then moved to Denton, where Jim served the next four years as an assistant to Carroll McMath at Denton High School. Their daughter Carma and son Jamey were born here. Jim’s mentors during this time included Carroll McMath, Pat Rooney, Lida Beasley, and Maurice McAdow. Although he had zero jazz experience, he was asked to direct the jazz band, with the first performance being a homecoming event for Miss America Phyllis George. Jim’s DHS jazz ensembles went on to win the Texas Stage Band Festival in Big Spring, judged by Stan Kenton and Gene Hall, as well as the Texas Tech and Castleberry Jazz Festivals.
In 1974, the Van Zandts moved to Fredericksburg, where Jim and assistant Wilburn Meier taught over 600 band students daily. He was mentored by Billy Harrell and once again, Lee Boyd Montgomery. Here, he had his first opportunity to host a UIL contest and had his first and only experience with the “annual” student-run keg party held around a campfire at a sheep ranch in celebration of yet another sweepstakes. (It should be noted that parents, school administrators, and several teachers were all participating!) Needless to say, times were different then.
In 1975, Jim took the job as head director at Richland High School in Birdville ISD, where he would teach for the next twenty years. His daughter and son were in his band at Richland, with Carma on oboe and Jamey on trombone. Both were fabulous students and extremely successful musicians. Carma was also a cheerleader and Jamey was a drum major. Jim reports that teaching his own kids was a life-changing, but an extremely rewarding and gratifying personal experience.
At Richland High School, Jim was blessed with outstanding colleagues, including Randy Bartlett, Jim Sharples, Fred Allen, Eddie Lynge, Scott McAdow, John Donner, Bryan Christian, Dee Tucker, Greg Hull, Melodianne Mallow, James Osborn, Richard Thomas, John Winslow, Chris Knighten, David Bertman, and others. His primary mentor was his supervisor and longtime fine arts director Henry Schraub. Jim says that he is indebted to Henry in more ways than can be counted, both professionally and personally. During these years, Jim was also heavily influenced by Mel Montgomery, Howard Dunn, Robert Floyd, Richard Floyd, John Whitwell, Eddie Green, Roger Winslow, and Tom Bennett. Jim’s Richland bands earned consistent UIL Sweepstakes awards, Region Honor Band twice, participated in the state marching contest and earned Best in Class or Outstanding Band at festivals in multiple states.
During Jim’s tenure at Richland, he served as the Region V band chairman and then was elected as the TMEA state band vice-president. He was on the TMEA executive board for five years, serving as TMEA president in 1985-86.
In 1995, Jim took over the band program at Westwood High School in Round Rock ISD. With an all new band staff, he started the job on August 2nd. He found a “list” of sixty-eight students but no official roster, many instruments missing, outdated uniforms, and a dismal budget. However, the school board was persuaded to make a significant investment in the fine arts. Thanks to colleagues such as Jack Green, Dick Frazier, Randy Smith, and Betty Pierce, the Westwood band program grew rapidly to be an exemplary program and continues to flourish today.
In 2001 Jim became the Director of Fine Arts for Round Rock ISD, serving fourteen years in that role. His most influential mentors during this time were Tom Waggoner and Bob Floyd, but much of his success was due to administrator colleagues Lisa Roebuck, Tim Lowke, and Denise Cochran.
During the 2010-11 school year, Jim was honored by the Texas Music Administrators Conference as Music Administrator of the Year. In 2012, Richard Floyd presented him with the Outstanding Music Educator award from Section 6 of the National Federation of High Schools. Also in 2012, Jim was appointed by the Texas State Board of Education as one of six content reviewers for the revision of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, which were ultimately approved unanimously by the state board in 2013. In 2014, Jim was honored as the recipient of the Lifetime Administrator Achievement Award from the Texas Bandmasters Association.
Jim currently serves as UIL executive secretary for Region XXVI. His mentors in this role have been Gerald and Cheryl Babbitt. As a charter member of TMAA, he continues to be active as a clinician and adjudicator and has served in these roles in Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida, and Arizona.
Through his organization called Enhance the Arts.us, Jim continues to focus on fine arts program evaluations, professional development, and fine arts advocacy for school districts, professional associations, and universities. This spring he was invited to serve as a Conn-Selmer Clinician.
In one month, Jim and Carolyn will celebrate fifty years of marriage. They are very proud of their family, including daughter Carma and her husband John Biebighauser, son Jamey, and five amazing grandchildren including triplets Joy, John, and Kate Biebighauser, Emma Biebighauser, and Austin Van Zandt, all of whom are here today.