The MUSIC TEACHER
After a decade of teaching, Jason Hatfield has seen many students in his Palm Pointe Symphonic Band program earn superior ratings at state competitions. JOHN BIONDO PHOTO
BY DEBRA MAGRANN
From Alaska to Florida, Jason “Billy” Hatfield is following a life roadmap that includes his vocation: music teacher. An avid guitar enthusiast, Hatfield’s family lived in Homer, Alaska, alongside the homesteading Kilcher clan of the Discovery Channel’s Alaska: The Last Frontier — family of the pop singer, Jewel.
“We would see the Kilchers around town,” Hatfield says. “It wasn’t like they were our next-door neighbor — everyone was so spread out.”
Born at Fort Hood, Texas, when Hatfield’s father was in the military, the family eventually moved to Alaska because his grandparents lived there.
“I was a bit of a rebel,” he says. “My family life wasn’t the greatest.”
“I got into music because I had a band director who played saxophone — I played sax — and he became a mentor,” he explains. “Music was a window into other cultures that I didn’t have access to. It was a nice place to escape.”
Private lessons were provided and his mentor gave him all the Chicago albums telling him not to listen to the words, just the horns. That advice was a springboard to his future.
Hatfield’s grandparents homesteaded in Alaska in the land giveaway. The idea was to provide free land to settlers willing to develop the land.
“It was rough,” he says. “Driving up a dirt road when the snow melts, it’s called breakup, was a mess. There was no indoor plumbing. We had to use the outhouse. It was a unique experience.”
Transportation was limited but adventurous at the same time. “I had a friend who flew a Cessna. We would fly out and fish and then fly back.”
One summer during high school, Hatfield worked at a commercial fishery.
“The building was really smelly, but it paid quite well,” he says. “The goal was to get overtime. College students would come in from around the country, work the summer to make money and go home.”
Homer was a way of life unlike any other.
“I grew up with a Hunter and a Trapper,” he says. “They were brothers. People go there to get away from other people. They are rugged individuals …when you think about it that fits a band director pretty well.”
Over time, the Hatfields moved to the city. He loved hanging out with his grandmother who had an accordion and an organ. His father became a minister. Eventually, two of his brothers joined the Air Force — one remains on active duty, the other is retired and the last one is in Alaska on the North Slope working on the pipeline.
He didn’t like living off the land and felt he’d rather be in a big city. He graduated from high school in 1993 and headed for college. “I couldn’t get out fast enough!”
He’s been a Florida resident for 20 years. His first teaching assignments were at Westminster Christian School and Dade Christian in Miami. He has been band director at Palm Pointe Educational Research School at Tradition since the doors opened in 2008. He’s come a long way from a dozen fifth-grade students in general music — not enough to even have a band.
Real growth came with the support of Debbie Snyder, a former principal. The music program became a priority. Now growing a handful of performance-based programs, he is forging the way for hundreds of students to broaden their horizons via music exploration.
Not one to boast, Hatfield’s accomplishments keep piling up. He is the school’s Teacher of the Year and his jazz bands have earned superior ratings at State Solo and Ensemble competitions for the last five years. In December, the band had a rare opportunity to perform at Club Med Sandpiper Bay in Port St. Lucie. A band parent lives in the community and insisted the students perform. He made the connection.
“It was really cool,” Hatfield says. “They (Club Med) loved it. We played by the pool and they treated us to a fancy buffet.”
In the four-county area there are only seven school jazz bands and Hatfield directs two of them.
Their schedule balloons after the holidays with traveling out of the area to compete. He is a statewide adjudicator and balances responsibilities as a seasoned professional. His personality is easy going and sets students at ease.
He directs 80 students in the program and received three new French horns this year. The Palm Pointe Symphonic band attends the Florida Bandmasters Association’s District 13 performance assessment (known as Festival) April 1 at Treasure Coast High School. Recent successes propel everyone toward higher achievement.
“It is rewarding to have students come back to visit after 10 years of teaching — some now have families of their own,” Hatfield says. “It sounds cliché but one of my favorite things about my job is my students. They come from such diverse backgrounds. I came from a totally different upbringing. I know I am making a difference in their lives.”
JASON ‘BILLY’ HATFIELD
Hometown: Port St. Lucie
Family: Wife Erika; daughter Jocelyn, 9; extended family includes parents and three brothers.
Education: High school in Alaska; undergrad in music education Maranatha Baptist University, Watertown, Wis.; master’s in instrumental conducting from Southern Oregon University. Taught at Westminster Christian School and Dade Christian in Miami.
Hobbies: Running, being out with the family and relaxing.
Who/what inspires me: “I find a lot of musicians inspire me. My students inspire me to listen to all kinds of different music.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “I’m a huge guitar geek — talking about them, playing them and listening to them.”