For the first time in three decades, someone other than Kim Harrison is holding the conductor’s baton for the SM East bands. And perhaps no one could be better suited for the opportunity than Alex Toepfer.
“I’ve had my eye on this job since 2008, and [Kim] and I had talked about the possibility of him retiring and me taking over,” Toepfer said. “This is my dream job. This was my ultimate professional goal.”
Now 31, Toepfer met Harrison while he was still an undergraduate at Fort Hays State University in his hometown of Hays. Toepfer had started studying musical education, and was one of the instructors at the High Plains Band Camp, which Harrison attended each year.
“We played in the faculty big band together and taught some jazz classes together,” he recalls. “My senior year, Kim asked me if I’d be interested in student teaching at East. He played me some recordings of the jazz band, and I was blown away. Then I came and saw it first hand, and it was absolutely amazing.”
Toepfer stayed in the Kansas City area after his student teaching stint at SM East to pursue his masters degree at UMKC. After completing his degree, he took a job as the assistant band director at Washburn Rural High School in Topeka, where he taught the past three years. But when Harrison announced his retirement, Toepfer jumped at the opportunity to lead what he calls one of the most talented band programs in the state.
A trained saxophonist who also plays the clarinet and the flute, Toepfer says he’s a “whole program” teacher with something of a soft spot for jazz. (He has a picture of himself and famed KC saxophonist Bobby Watson over his desk).
“I’m a program guy, and I love it all,” he said. “Jazz is a passion, and that’s kind of why this was such a good fit. They wanted someone who recognized the remarkable thing we have here with the jazz bands. But my vision is to make every aspect of the program just as good as the jazz.”
In addition to teaching the band and orchestra classes at SM East, Toepfer also teaches band at Indian Hills each day.
The SM East community will have a chance to see the Toepfer-led band program in action for the first time this year at the football season opener against Gardner-Edgerton September 4, when they unveil their Westside Story-themed halftime show. And then the jazz band will help kick off the Prairie Village Jazz Fest with a set at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 12.
More information about the program is available at smelancerbands.com.