Music in Our Schools Month Spotlight: AJ Gagaza

By Allison Whisnant

In honor of Music In Our Schools Month, Kappa Kappa Psi is celebrating our brothers who work everyday with future musicians, teachers, and brothers: our music teachers and band directors! It is our hope that we can learn a little bit more about the lives of these educators and to celebrate and thank them for all of the hard work that they do in changing lives through music.

Our first spotlight in this series is AJ Gagaza. He was initiated into the Iota Alpha chapter at Fresno State University in Fresno, California on May 7, 2011 as a member of the Alpha Phi class. He received his BA in Music Education and a MA in Child Development/Early Childhood Education, both from CSU Fresno (Fresno State). He began his career teaching K-8 music in Sanger, CA. In this position, he was at three different elementary schools and two K-8 schools, where he taught classroom music, recorders, band, and an indoor drumline. He currently teaches K-8 music in Fresno, CA where he teaches recorders, band, orchestra, and choir. 

AJ was drawn to music when he was in school because of illness that prevented him from participating in sports. In high school, the band became a place where he felt safe and valued, thanks to his band director, which played a part in saving his mental health. He began his undergrad degree in pre-med pathology but soon realized that music was his calling. After a bit of a transition, AJ graduated and began his career in music education.

One of AJ’s biggest inspirations in his musical career was a fellow Kappa Kappa Psi candidate and music major who tragically lost his life. He felt driven to make his friend proud and was inspired by his desire to make the world better through music and change the lives of students, not just make a salary.

Kappa Kappa Psi has been an influence on AJ’s career. Many of the long hours and stresses that come along with being in an organization have taught him the value of tact and patience that play a critical part in the lives of a teacher. He also gained endless connections, resources, and knowledge through his time as the Western District Member-at-Large. He continues to collaborate with brothers and sisters of Kappa Kappa Psi and Tau Beta Sigma to improve his teaching methods and pedagogy.

AJ has a lot of great advice for any young or aspiring music educators. “COLLEGE GRADUATION DOES NOT MEAN YOU STOP LEARNING. Not to be dramatic, but this was the best advice I ever received.  My master teacher refused to put me on the podium with any of his groups until I could play through the first-year method book on flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, horn, and percussion. As a tuba player, I was comfortable with tuba and trombone, but this truly surprised me. He let me take home all those instruments and for three weeks, I taught myself everything through the book. I had instrument specific pedagogy classes in my undergrad, but only spent 3 weeks on every instrument family (and we only met twice a week).  At the time, I was irritated, thinking, “I have my degree, just let me teach already,” but through this, I became a much better student, educator, and musician. I now play all those instruments daily with my students, ensuring to them that it is okay to make a mistake. Embracing mistakes is what makes us better. Owning our mistakes makes us more human. MISTAKES ARE A PART OF LIFE. By learning these instruments, I can relate to the students, especially beginning band, when they are frustrated and irritated with their progress, because I was there at one point.” 

We thank AJ for his continued dedication to education and excellence through music, and we are proud that he is continuing to positively represent Kappa Kappa Psi in schools.

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