A change in leadership can make a world of difference. Just ask the students at Orange Lutheran High School about music director Aaron Zeilinger, who they affectionately call Mr. Z. In one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a student wrote, “Mr. Z is always motivating us to be the best version of ourselves.”
Another student wrote, “Mr. Z makes everyone feel welcome to the program. I’ve seen upperclassmen with no prior music experience join band and commit to practicing because of Mr. Z’s dedication to make everyone feel capable of being a musician.”
A major change Zeilinger implemented at Orange Lutheran was to re-establish the marching band. “After a 3-year hiatus, I saw a need for the unique team bonding that marching band brings to a program,” he said. “Now that we are in our fourth year, the kids are closer than ever and excited for when we can march again.”
Zeilinger also changed the format of the final concert of the school year — the Student Showcase — to be one developed and run by students. “I have always been a firm believer in establishing a sense of ownership within programs by enabling students to have a voice in major items,” he said. “Each song is either chosen by, conducted by or taught by a student with my guidance. It is truly a celebration of the students’ growth over the time that they have been in the program.”
During the pandemic, Zeilinger asked for student input on topics for his music appreciation presentations. He has lectured on topics ranging from baroque music to the music of Harry Styles and even what makes a pop song catchy. “It has been a lot of fun creating these lessons and allowing students to sit back and enjoy something (that is still educationally relevant) during this already stressful time,” he said.
In addition to teaching music, Zeilinger molds students to be self aware, empathetic and positive. And his students feel his impact long after they leave Orange Lutheran. A former student wrote, “When I graudated, one of Mr. Zeilinger’s final pieces of advice to me was to ‘have confidence in yourself and don’t be afraid to get out of your shell.’ I still take this advice to heart today.”