Nicole Decker

Nicole Decker

Madison Central 6-12 Director of Bands, Madison Central School District
Madison, SD
Music Education, 2014

"Reach out and make connections! Make connections within your major, on your dorm floor and in outside organizations. I had to get out of my comfort zone, but it was completely worth it."

Q&A with Nicole:

Describe your current educational or professional pursuits.

When I applied to USD I was going to be a business major. I always enjoyed music, especially learning new instruments, but never thought about it as a career. My senior year of high school gave me clarity to change to music education. Conducting and making music with others was my new-found passion and I knew that I had to keep doing it whenever and wherever I could.

Currently, I oversee all high school and middle school instrumental music in the Madison Central School District. This includes the marching bands, concert bands, jazz band, solo and ensemble groups and pep band. I also teach a 6th grade class called bucket drumming. I am still a member of NAfME and now the South Dakota Music Educators Association (SDMEA) and the South Dakota Bandmasters. I attend multiple conferences around the state to improve my skills and knowledge of music. I have been a part of community bands within the towns of Madison and Watertown, conducted the Yankton Community Band, as well as play in the National Community Band that was directed by the former Marine Band Director, Colonel John R. Bourgeois.

My hope is always to stay a musician at heart and show that to my students. If I can't practice what I preach, then what is it all for? My passion for music has been unwavering for so long and my goal is to inspire those around me to love music just as much as I do.

How did your USD experience influence your career path?

As I look back, I realize that USD has helped me in so many ways. Not only did it give me great friendships that will last the rest of my life, it gave me mentors that have continued to inspire me and help me throughout my career. They encouraged me to push the limits and find joy in everything I do and can do for others. They showed me what hard work looks like and how to be the best person I can be. If it weren't for USD, I wouldn't have my current job. A former professor encouraged me to apply because he saw my potential. I am so thankful every day for putting my name in the hat for this job. I have loved every minute of working in Madison and am very excited to continue working in the community. I owe all of that to USD.

Tell us about your proudest achievement.

The growth in the band program since I've started in Madison is something I am truly proud of. Once I moved to the town, I heard of previous high school bands that at times had over two hundred students involved. Unfortunately, over the years this number started to decline.

My first year I had 55 students in the high school band and 60 in the middle school band. Now as I begin my fourth year, the high school will have 80 members and the middle school will have 90. In that time, we've had two all-state band members, who also received first chair, a middle school all-state band member and for the first time a middle school all-state jazz band member. Our marching band has gradually started to receive first place class awards as well as awards of distinction, including outstanding drum major, best percussion and the Triple A award for best sportsmanship on and off the field. Our concert band has continued to receive a first-place division rating at large group contest, and we've had several members receive superior and perfect scores on solos they've taken to contest.

Beyond the awards and ratings, my proudest achievement is seeing my students find their passion in music. I can think of a few students who at first were distant, shy, disengaged and had no purpose for music besides just another credit on their transcripts. Now, those same students are sections leaders, trying out for honor bands and seeking help outside of class to improve their skills. Some of those students are now across the country playing in Division I college bands and furthering their education beyond high school. Music is their escape and there is nothing that makes me prouder than seeing the passion fuse get ignited in students who I teach.

What was your USD experience like? Were you involved in any campus organizations or activities?

While attending USD, I participated in various groups within the music department such as marching band, concert band, symphonic band, jazz band, pep band, orchestra, woodwind choir and concert choir and was a member of the band council. I was drum major of The Sound of USD from my sophomore to senior year. I was a part of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) and the music fraternity Pi Kappa Lambda.

Outside of the music department, I was a member of the sorority Kappa Alpha Theta and held various officer positions and was a part of many philanthropic committees to organize fundraisers. I also held multiple jobs within the community. I worked at the desk of the freshmen dorms, was a server at Cafe Brule, cleaned the Wells Fargo Bank, did work study in the music department and was a cashier at the Cherry Pit gas station.

I tried everything I could to be involved and keep myself busy! I loved every second of my college career and wouldn't change it for the world. I still had time to be with friends, relax and even visit my home in Illinois, which made me miss Vermillion and fall in love with it even more. My time at USD will always be one of my most cherished memories.

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