DENHAM SPRINGS — Vincent Fortado brings a lifetime of classical music training coupled with experience gained from study and performance on two sides of the globe to his position as the new band director at Denham Springs High School.
Fortado, who returned to the United States on June 18 from Australia where he was completing studies for his doctorate in music degree to assume his new position, is already at work preparing for the coming school year. “The hiring process was most interesting … all the interviews I did with school officials I did by telephone from Australia. But I am here now, and I’m ready to be the band director at Denham Springs High,” he said.
Fortado is taking over the position held by Andrew Hunter for the past two years. Hunter, whom Fortado has known for several years, accepted a position with the University of Texas at El Paso. Fortado said he is thrilled to be coming to Denham Springs High School because of the reputation of the school, and its band.
“Andrew told me that being band director at Denham Springs High was an ideal situation. His remark was, ‘The job is easy when you have great kids to work with.’ From my time at Louisiana State University, I have come to know many people in this area and I know how much they care for their school and their band,” Fortado said.
Looking forward to the coming school year, the new director said he doesn’t plan to change the way the band has been operating. “Teaching can be frustrating if you are pulling teeth … but that is not the case here. This has always been a great program. A solid foundation for a great band has been laid. This school has a great administration, great parents; this is a great community and it’s a ‘perfect storm’ for great things to happen,” he said.
Fortado said he has already met with the band’s student leadership and he was impressed with the early interaction with his future students. “I emphasized to the student that this is their band. The band belongs to the students, not me. I am just the custodian. The band members I have met with have shown me that they are mature and that they have the correct mindset. I believe that I am in a really good position and I don’t know of any band teacher who wouldn’t want to be in the position that I am in,” Fortado continued.
He said he told the students he doesn't plan to change things. He wants to learn how things are done in the program and bring some different perspectives to the band from his experiences.
Fortado said he wants his band members to have fun. "I always ask, 'Did you do your best?' It doesn’t matter about the placement that a band member might make. I want these kids to have fun, to be satisfied with what they accomplished, to show improvement and make each day better than the one before. It’s about a process. I want them to think that there are no rehearsals … just performances. If you bring 100 percent to the rehearsal, you will feel as if you are in a performance. Above all, have fun … if you can do that, the whole experience will always be one of joy."
Fortado brings a wide range of experience to his new position. His two years of study in Australia were only the latest of his adventures in music that began when he entered Holy Cross High School in Metairie in 1996. “I was into sports in elementary school and had never played an instrument. When I got to Holy Cross, they said I had to take a study skills class which I had already taken. I could get out of that by being in the band so I went to the director and said I wanted to be in the band. He said he needed flute players and I brought one home but my father was having none of that."
Instead of playing flute, he took up the clarinet and in six weeks he was making music. "I loved it from the start and I have been making music ever since,” he recalled.
A young Fortado liked classical music. His parents took him to the Orpheum Theater in New Orleans to hear Henry Mancini’s Orchestra.
He earned all-star honor band for three years beginning when he was a sophomore. “I had scholarship offers from several colleges and universities, but I knew I wanted to go to LSU. I had been to some of the football games and watching the Tiger band come down the hill and perform in the stadium was a thrill. I didn’t want to be a conductor, I wanted to be a player. I loved to play. I practiced a lot. I just could not get enough playing. LSU gave me that chance."
He was part of Tiger band under the direction of Frank Wicks. "He taught me so much … he was an iconic individual. He was charismatic, a master teacher and musician, and just a wonderful man. He made me want to be a music teacher and conductor and not just a performer,” Fortado said.
As graduation approached, Fortado was recruited to join the U.S. Army Band in Heidelberg, Germany. In 2004, joined the army. After basic training in the United States and additional instruction at the Armed Forces School of Music in Little Creek, Virginia, Fortado was sent to Germany where he would remain for the next six years.
“These were very special years … I was surrounded by more talent than I had ever known. During my time there I visited 30 different countries either with the band or alone. I performed in Moscow and we were the first military band to ever perform within the walls of the Kremlin. I performed for two presidents, George H. W. Bush and Barack Obama. I got to see wonderful places while doing what I loved, making music,” he recalled. Fortado said performing on Omaha Beach in Normandy, site of the D Day landings, was especially memorable. “My time in Europe helped me grow as a person and a musician."
Fortado left the army in 2012 then moved to Lubbock, Texas, to earn a master's degree at Texas Tech University. He taught at Texas and New Mexico public schools for a time when chance once again betokened on foreign shores. “I was friends with Dr. John Lynch, who was formerly associated with the University of Georgia. He had since been appointed to the Sydney Conservatory of Music in Sydney, Australia. He invited me to join him and work towards my doctorate degree in music and I just couldn’t say no. I sold everything I had and flew to Australia for the next two years,” Fortado recalled.
He said he decided to return to the states this past spring when his mother became ill. “There came a time in my life when I had to think about what was important and what really mattered. I would not be who I am today had it not been for my wonderful parents. Their understanding and sacrifice allowed me to pursue my dreams. They always supported me and never tried to ‘guilt me’ about traveling around the world chasing my dreams. I knew that the only way I could come back was if I found something to do and when I heard about the Denham Springs position I just knew this was where I wanted to be,” he said.
Fortado hopes to earn his Ph.D. in 2019.
The new band director said he is eager for school to start and is looking forward to working with the band in the coming weeks. He concedes this unusually hot summer is a challenge for the marching band and said he will practice marching in the gym as much as possible.
Fortado said he's ready to do what he can to make the high school music experience "be the very best it can be” for his students.