A typical week for Christopher Protho involves teaching music at Mars Area Middle School from Monday through Friday, then hopping into a car or onto a plane to volunteer at a music festival Saturday somewhere in the United States and returning home on Sunday.
"With eight to nine weeks of marching band season, it's very time-consuming," he said.
For his efforts, Mr. Protho was named volunteer of the year by the International Festivals & Events Association. The association hosts big-name national events, such as the Rose Bowl and Kentucky Derby, as well as local parades and festivals.
When he was a freshman at West Virginia University in 1990, Mr. Protho began volunteering for Music for All, a nonprofit that advances music education by holding events around the country involving all musical genres and an annual summer symposium that draws 1,600 students to Ball State University in Indiana.
Mr. Protho said WVU hosted a regional band festival, and he signed up to help with it.
And, he was hooked.
Mr. Protho, 41, of Adams received his award Sept. 16 at the International Festival & Events Association's 58th annual convention, held in Pittsburgh.
He said he got his teaching job at Mars Area through his volunteer work. He was teaching at Valley Middle School in the New Kensington-Arnold School District and volunteering for Music for All on weekends when he met Charles Prijatelj, the former band director in Mars Area. Mr. Prijatelj recruited him when the district had an opening.
Although the arts sometimes can be placed on the chopping block when funds get tight, Mr. Protho said music education continues to be a priority in Mars Area and other local districts.
"I think the pendulum is starting to swing the other way. In this era of high-stakes testing, we have tried to focus our energies on reading, STEM ... ," he said. "People are beginning to realize that there is more to a student and that a wider curriculum is important."
During Mr. Protho's 17 years in Mars Area, the district added three music teachers and started an orchestra program. Orchestra lessons start in fourth grade, and band in fifth grade. This year, he said, 170 fifth-graders are in the band program.
"Enthusiasm for band is kind of skyrocketing," he said, adding that music helps students achieve in other areas.
"Music students have creativity, problem-solving and communication skills and [the ability to work] with others. It does kind of what every other area can do, all rolled into one," he said. "Students we see succeed in the music programs are going to succeed in life."
Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer: email@example.com.