LAKEWOOD RANCH — There isn’t much you haven’t seen after 35 years in the same profession.
But, when the Lakewood Ranch High School Band Department honors founding Band Director Bob Schaer with its Retirement Gala May 10, it will give him an entirely new perspective on the thriving program he built from scratch.
For the first time in his career, instead of standing at the podium, baton in hand, Schaer will kick back in the audience, as his students perform on stage. Four of Schaer’s protégés, Lakewood Assistant Band Director Ron Lambert, Braden River High School Band Director Kendall Carrier, Bayshore High School Band Director Danny Boyd and North Port High School Band Director Owen Bradley will lead Lakewood’s concert band, symphonic band and wind ensemble.
Lambert, who will assume the band program’s reins, calls the group the “Secret Society of Assistant Band Directors” — the offspring of Schaer’s expertise and the ones charged with carrying on his life’s work.
“It’s definitely bittersweet,” Schaer says. “I’ll miss working with the kids the most. (The gala) will be a fun night. It’s all pop stuff, and all the songs have some significance in my life.”
But, while most would welcome a night off, Schaer admits he’ll feel a tad uneasy.
“Teaching and directing on that podium is the most comfortable place in the world for me,” he says.
For some, it takes years to choose a career path, and some even more unfortunate never seem to find their true calling.
Schaer, an Ohio native, knew he was destined for music at just 5 years old. The son of a jazz trumpet player, Schaer will never forget the night his father let him stay up late to see legendary drummer Buddy Rich perform on TV.
“I was in kindergarten, and I thought it was just incredible,” Schaer remembers of seeing the big-band phenom.
By fourth grade, Schaer was taking private drum lessons and continued learning the instrument through middle and high school. And although those formative years took place smack in the middle of Beatlemania, Schaer always preferred something with a little more swing.
“I liked the jazz thing,” he says. “Not much of a rock ’n’ roller. I was in a garage band — once, but I really liked the jazz and big-band stuff.”
Schaer harbored big aspirations as he entered college at Kent State University as a performance major.
“I was going to be the world’s gift to percussion,” he says, laughing. “And then, I saw all these other percussionists who were better than me.”
Knocked off his perch, Schaer regrouped and re-evaluated his future plans, changing his major to music education.
“I remembered my middle-school band director, who really had a great life and a great career,” he says.
After graduation, Schaer began teaching band in Parma, Ohio, for four years. He then enrolled at the University of Florida in 1979 to earn his master’s degree in music education. It was a move that eventually would inspire thousands of musicians in Manatee and Sarasota counties.
“At that time, the corps style of marching band was new but getting popular, and I wanted to learn it,” he says. “For that, the University of Florida was it.”
Schaer continued his high school teaching career at Naples High School for three years and then launched Port Charlotte High School’s music program. After five years there, he moved to Southeast High in Manatee County, where he worked for nine years, until a little community began taking shape east of Interstate 75.
“I wanted a new challenge,” Schaer says of establishing Lakewood Ranch’s band program. “I felt like I had done all I could do (at Southeast). And starting from nothing and creating something new — I really like that.”
But, the Southeast band community didn’t let Schaer leave quietly. The students launched a campaign to honor their outgoing band director, and the school named its newly renovated music building after him.
“It was quite an honor from the Southeast band kids,” he says.
BUILDING THE BAND
Still inspired by that corps marching band style he learned at UF, Schaer decided quickly he wanted to install a program at Lakewood that eventually would become one of the most competitive in the country. But, with so much time, energy and money involved in building a competitive program, he knew he needed the support of the Lakewood community at large to make it happen.
“In 2000, we went to the Fiesta Bowl to compete for the first time,” Schaer says. “I wanted to show the kids what that was like and to see if this was something we wanted to do.
“They bought into it big-time,” he says. “That year, we didn’t even make finals. But six years later, in 2006, we took second place.”
For Schaer, Lakewood’s second Fiesta Bowl appearance was the both the culmination of years of dedication as well as the birth of a perennial marching band powerhouse.
“I’ll never forget being on the sidelines in Phoenix during the semifinals,” Schaer says. “The kids took the field, and it was just happening. And I turned to all the staff members, and I said, ‘Fellas, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy this.’
“Really, those six years — 2000 to 2006 — were our learning curve,” he says.
It was also in those years that Lakewood’s band program created its identity. Some programs are known for their visuals or intricate drills. Lakewood is known for its music.
For Lakewood’s band program, Schaer’s retirement isn’t abrupt or unexpected. Rather, it’s the final, beautiful notes of a performance that spans the high school’s entire history. Following a heart attack in September 2004 that forced Schaer on a four-month leave of absence, he knew he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the rigors a band program such as Lakewood’s demands.
“Band directors are notorious for creating our own problems,” he says, laughing. “This year, especially, I just was feeling everything. It’s not like it used to be.”
Part of Schaer’s recovery required him to set an end date on his career. This year, he’s slowly pulled back to allow Lambert to transition into his new role.
“I knew an hour after I met Ron Lambert that I wanted him to be the next band director,” Schaer says. “The band is in good hands, and I know the program is just going to get better and better. I’m very fortunate.”
With his wife, Joyce, still working at All Children’s Hospital, Schaer says he has no grand plans for traveling the world. Rather, he’ll enjoy a slower, more leisurely pace for at least a year.
“I’m going to take a year to find myself,” he says. “(Before), I played golf every day in June, and that was it. So, I’m definitely going to golf.”
Schaer says he also plans to dabble in the instrument-repair industry. And, of course, he’ll catch a Lakewood performance or competition once in a while.
“I’ll definitely miss looking in the kids’ eyes after a great performance,” he says. “There have been times in rehearsals that have given me goose bumps. I’ll miss that.”
Contact Michael Eng at [email protected].
IF YOU GO
Retirement Gala in Honor of Bob Schaer
WHEN: 7 p.m. May 10
WHERE: Lakewood Ranch High School Auditorium, 5500 Lakewood Ranch Blvd.
INFORMATION: Jenny, [email protected]
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