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Music man gets his due
It can happen almost anywhere: a school campus, an airport terminal, the middle of Disneyland.
Dozens of high school-aged youths chatting, thumbing their cell phones or in some other state of goofing off.
All it takes is one strongly voiced word.
The goofing stops, silence falls, followed by a chorus.
And just like that, Vern Fosket has the attention of each of his Sequim High School Band members.
When asked about it, Fosket just grins. He’s not totally owning this attention-grabbing method, revealing that he picked up the repartee from a colleague named Jim Allen years ago.
“Some people just love that. When you’re trying to get people’s attention… it’s pretty cool,” Fosket says, taking a break between classes. “That was his thing. It stuck.”
It’s understood that when Sequim High’s director of music wants their undivided attention and respect, all it takes is that one word.
After nearly 30 years of teaching music at junior highs in South Kitsap and at Sequim High, Fosket is getting a show of respect from colleagues across the state.
During the Washington Music Educators Association’s All-State Conference, Feb. 17-20 in Yakima, WMEA officials will induct Fosket into their Hall of Fame.
“Totally surprised,” Fosket says. “It’s recognition that others have watched and … respected what you’re doing.”
Every other year, the association selects 10 individuals who have contributed to music education in the state.
For Fosket, honors for his decades of service already have come, albeit in moments that can’t be put on a plaque or trophy.
“The biggest thing is the kids; watching them do well at Disneyland and adjudication has always been my reward,” he says.
A musician, inspired
Fosket grew up in the Lake Stevens area, when it was a much smaller town than it is now. His graduating class (there was just one high school then) numbered 145, or about 50 fewer than Sequim graduates each June.
But well before grabbing his diploma, he was headed toward a career in music. By 5 or 6, Fosket was in piano lessons. Somewhere along he way, he picked up guitar. And when it came time to rent an instrument as he grew into middle school age, the aspiring percussionist changed his mind at the last minute.
“I saw the trombone with that one moving part and thought, ‘I can do that,’” he recalls, remembering a series of summer lessons with a musician named Ed Pearson that spurred his playing ability and acumen.
By his senior year in high school, he knew he wanted to play music for a living. His original plan was to play in a military service and his audition for the Air Force band went well.
His physical, however, did not. Bad knees kept him out of the service. Instead, Fosket went the academic route. He pursued music and teaching degrees at Seattle Pacific University, all the while playing gigs from jazz to classical to funk along the way. When churches needed a trombone player for Easter, Fosket was there; and when the local funk band needed some low-end grooves, Fosket was there with his bass.
“I really enjoyed playing funk and jazz,” he says, “(but) I’m more of a classical player.”
In 1982, Fosket graduated with his bachelor’s and fifth-year degrees from SPU, then spent a year in the family business upholstering furniture. He picked up a long-term substitute teaching job soon thereafter at Valley View Junior High in Snohomish.
He then landed a job teaching junior high band in the South Kitsap School District, a job he held for 13 years.
It was the third time South Kitsap’s local levy failed that Fosket decided it might be time to move. The district cut out the elementary band programs and began moving band directors to other classrooms to keep them employed.
One day after that third levy went down, Fosket got a phone call from Mike Johnson, then the Sequim High School principal. A small network of friends and colleagues had put Fosket’s name on the table.
“Things (in Sequim) were starting to build; the middle school program had good numbers,” Fosket recalls.
“There was a lot of potential. I kind of controlled my own destiny.”
Finding a home in Sequim
Potential? Sure. Fosket was able to teach middle school and high school classes, such as they were. The high school had one class of 45 students and their new teacher was new to teaching that age group.
“Not having experience (teaching) that age, I was nervous,” Fosket says, but noted he “absolutely fell in love” with the job.
Eventually the district shifted Fosket to teaching full time at Sequim High.
In the 15 years since Fosket came to Sequim, the SHS band program has grown from one class of 45 to five classes, including wind ensemble (45 students), percussion ensemble (37), jazz band (28), concert band (24) and music theory (eight). While some students are in more than one of the classes, that’s a total of 142 students.
How do you keep 142 students busy? Easy. Try this:
• Entertaining at multiple football and basketball games
• Several parades each spring
• All-state band
• All-state solo and ensemble
• The Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Idaho
• Warm Beach concerts
• Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in Seattle
• Heritage Festival in Anaheim, Calif. (with trips to Disneyland) every other year
• Concerts and parades in Victoria every other year.
Oh, and several local concerts each year, free and open to the public.
“Time is always kind of a hard (problem),” Fosket says. “That’s where boosters have helped tremendously.”
A small parent group supported the Sequim High bands when Fosket began here in the late 1990s. Now the Sequim Band Boosters is a full-fledged operation with officers and volunteers collecting thousands of dollars each year to help Sequim students travel and participate in the exhausting aforementioned schedule.
“That changed when we started taking Disneyland trips,” Fosket says. “It almost became a necessary organization.”
The Sequim teacher said the Sequim School District has supported the band well, too.
“We’ve had such excellent administrative support since I’ve been here — that’s never been an issue,” he says.
But Fosket admits it’s not easy to keep the vibrant program going with new graduation requirements giving students fewer and fewer academic options.
“Things are getting harder and harder for the kids to take (these) classes right now. It’s out of their control.”
That doesn’t mean Fosket is going anywhere, though. Sequim was home for him and his wife, Lynn, and their children.
“I never really thought we would move or go somewhere,” he says. “I’ve done so many things I never thought I’d do.”
Fittingly, Fosket is lending a hand at next weekend’s WMEA conference, where he directs the All-State Wind Symphony. He notes that he will have to step out of rehearsals to pick up his Hall of Fame honor, then high-tail it back to rehearsals.
There’s a pause in the conversation about this award while the music teacher helps a Sequim High student fix her saxophone.
It seems as though the teaching never stops. Though he says he looks forward to helping more at state-level events and competitions, Fosket’s heart seems firmly planted in the classroom.
“You watch that light bulb go on,” he says. “They play something they didn’t know they could play.”
Maybe they don’t know for sure. But he does.