SALEM, N.H. — Woodbury School music teacher Patrick Moeschen starts a song by giving his musicians the beat.
“He goes one, two, and from there we start playing,” explained Grace Brito, a trumpet player and rising eighth grader at Woodbury. “I don’t think they get it, conducting isn’t the most important part of band that he needs to do.”
Moeschen, who teaches from a wheelchair due to a form of muscular dystrophy, was notified of a change in his class schedule next year — he was removed from his position as instrumental music teacher and band director.
The decision upset students, alumni and parents across the district. A Facebook group called “Free Moeschen!” with more than 2,000 members and a petition with more than 4,400 signatures were started to help get Moeschen reinstated.
The public attention even drew the eye of Keith Lockhart, conductor of the Boston Pops.
Lockhart invited Moeschen to speak with him on a recent eighth grade field trip to a concert.
Moeschen, humbled by the experience, took the time to pick Lockhart's brain about leading a band.
"I told him 'I live in the land of kids who drop drum sticks,' and he told me it happens there too," Moeschen said with a laugh.
Lockhart told Moeschen to consider him one of the people rooting for Moeschen through this process.
Moeschen found out about the change on May 7, when he met with Superintendent Michael Delahanty.
Delahanty told him that he was being reassigned to a different type of music class, and would no longer lead the band. It's in Moeschen's contract that he can be reassigned to teach classes he is certified to teach.
It came out of nowhere, according to Moeschen.
“I feel hurt as a loyal 24-year employee,” he said.
Moeschen explained that when he asked why, “We had a pleasant conversation about my physical condition.”
Moeschen asked district officials to reconsider their decision. While he currently teaches a few general music classes, his real passion lies with teaching instrumental music.
“I was upset to learn that’s what they based their decision on,” Moeschen said. “I’ve done this for 24 years, and I feel like I can continue doing this at a high level.”
He added that the district has not asked for experts to evaluate his condition.
In his classroom, Moeschen said he uses a metronome and YouTube as tools to teach his students.
He hasn’t conducted for about 12 or 13 years, and it hasn’t made a difference until now, he said.
“I can still play percussion, which is my main instrument, and as for the other instruments — I never really played them to begin with,” Moeschen explained.
He wants his classroom to be a place where students feel free and open to make mistakes, “especially with instruments in their faces,” he said.
And that’s part of the magic of Moeschen’s classroom, Grace said.
“There’s something different about Mr. Moeschen’s class,” she said. “He makes you want to do it… He made me a more confident player, and let me know making mistakes was OK.
“It’s been a saying that ‘If you have Mr. Moeschen you will love band,’” she said.
Moeschen likes to think his class is an open place where kids not only learn to love producing music, but they also learn how to deal with adversity.
“They see me in the chair everyday, and they know everyone is going to have good days and bad days, but they know it’s only a mountain if you make it a mountain,” he said.
Moeschen has been grateful for the support since it became public that he would no longer teach instrumental music.
He will continue to advise the middle school's jazz band, an after school auditioned band for students. He will miss his daily interactions teaching students instrumental music.
“I will teach to the best of my ability for what the district asks,” Moeschen said. "I hope someday in the future to teach band at some level, whether one grade level, or a full band. I'm definitely going to miss it from my school day schedule."