Music technology grant expands opportunities for students at Seagoville High School

Walking into Rodney Dittmar’s Modern Band classroom at Seagoville High School, you will find his students fully engaged in their work—discovering and honing their musical talents as composers, songwriters, sound engineers, musicians—and developing all types of skills that will prepare them to find their voices as artists.

In fact, they are the only school in the district, and only one of three in the nation to receive the Hometown to Hometown grant, which provided $45,000 worth of instruments and training through the Save the Music Foundation. Dittmar, who is the Fine Arts Department chair for the school, applied for the grant that has taken his music program to the next level. For example, where previously they had only one music production workstation, now, they have 16, thanks to this grant. Matt Edwards, director of choral, elementary, and general music for the district, brought Dittmar this opportunity.

According to its website, the Save the Music Foundation partners with schools across the country that show an immediate need for support and resources with a focus on increasing equity and access to music education for all students. One of the national advocates for this program is four-time Grammy-nominated Arlington native artist Mickey Guyton, who gave the class an autographed guitar and who made history as the first African-American female solo artist to earn a Grammy nomination in a country category. 

There are currently about 180 students in the modern band classes at Seagoville High School, including beginning sections taught by Major Goldman. Dittmar said when you think of a modern band, you think of instruments you would find in a rock band, such as guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, vocals, technology, and so on. He is also working on creating a soundbooth in his room in addition to the existing practice rooms. 

When Dittmar—who is also a district ambassador for Music Will, formerly known as Little Kids Rock—started the modern band over 24 years ago, he never imagined his program being where it is today.  

“Being able to record on a computer like this, didn’t exist,” he said. “The fact that 16 students can sit down in a workstation in a classroom and record, is amazing to me, beyond what I ever dreamed of.”

Although he and his students had been doing music production on what he describes as a  small scale, the grant has given them newer and better software and technology, including new iPads, headphones, and controllers that the students use on a daily basis. 

“That’s the ultimate end game right now, to have fun and to learn how to record and produce music,” Dittmar said. 

Not only do students get to learn to play instruments, they also learn songwriting, producing, mixing and other things in the music production class. In addition to the grant, Dittmar and his students will receive 90 hours of master class training from Mike Bogle, a Grammy-award winning artist who is a professor of commercial music at Cedar Valley College.  

Dittmar first started building the modern band program in 2000 as a guitar class at Seagoville Middle School. His program grew, and in 2008, he took the modern band program—the first in the district—to Seagoville High School. He describes the program as student-centered as students go beyond rock band genres. Dr. Linda Buckner now teaches the Seagoville Middle School classes.

In fact, Dittmar credits his students for introducing him to norteño music. He says that not everything has to be rock and roll and blues and likes it when his students bring new things to the table, which he is happy to learn about.  Some of his students are more focused on piano–and he’s able to work that in as well. 

You might recognize Dittmar’s students’ music, as it was his students who recorded “GTT,” a song that welcomed students back to school at the beginning of the year. “GTT” fused the genres of norteño, banda, and hip hop and featured Young Men’s Leadership Academy Principal Tito Salas, along with other Dallas ISD principals—including Seagoville High School Principal Janie Carballo—and students. You can catch Dittmar and his students playing guitar at the beginning of the music video. To watch the video click here

Through the grant and the collaboration with Cedar Valley College, Dittmar hopes that this will give his students more options should they decide to continue studying music. “I want my students to know that there are real degrees that will get them in the workplace and ensure that they can have a successful career,” Dittmar said.

Seeing his students become professionals in the music industry is not something new to Dittmar. He has seen former students record albums and some of his current students are in working bands. 

“The biggest takeaway from this is that I want them to enjoy music–if nothing else– and take what they learn with them,” he said. “I want them to be proud of their work and say ‘I recorded this or I can put this on Spotify or another platform’– and take pride knowing that this is their work. That is one of my favorite things about doing this.”

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