A band performs music
An OTC Game Changer Grant Award has allowed music instructor Phil Forrester to launch a jazz band at OTC. (Photo: Kristina Bridges, OTC)

This story is part of the Arts and Culture Reporting Corps, sponsored by the Springfield Regional Arts Council.

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, Phil Forrester, an Ozarks Technical Community College music instructor, rushes into a classroom auditorium on campus, where a handful of students await, their music cases in hand.

The group, nine students in all, make up OTC’s newly formed Jazz Band and are prepping for an upcoming gig: the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society Induction. Forrester goes over how the event will look, including setting up, the setlist and getting all of the equipment back to campus and locked away before the day is done. Before any instruments are played during the rehearsal, Forrester has one last request.

“Dress nice,” he says. “I’d say Sunday best, but for me, that means Chiefs gear,” he jokes. He recommends “business casual,” but adds not to go shopping for anything new. 

Band funded by OTC grant award

A huge part of Forrester’s goal with starting a student jazz band is accessibility for its members, from instruments to practice time and even performance wardrobe. As a 2022 OTC Game Changer Grant Award Winner, Forrester has been able to successfully achieve these goals through a $10,000 grant. 

Created in 2020, the OTC Game Changer Grant Award is an internal grant program inspired by Dr. Hal Higdon, OTC chancellor and president.

“Innovation has been a critical part of how OTC meets the needs of the region and how we think ahead of the curve,” said Calie Holden, director of strategic planning and grant development at OTC.

The grants are developed by OTC full-time faculty and staff, submitted for application and, if accepted, are then presented to the campus during an annual Innovation Ceremony, where final projects are voted on by campus peers. Holden says that this format is an exciting way to give faculty a platform to test out their big ideas.

“If it’s a good fit, then the institution can take several of the ideas to bring them to scale and implement them,” she said.

The OTC Jazz Band was the first Game Changer winner from the Fine Arts and Humanities Department.

“The college really responded when Phil brought the idea forward, and received a large number of votes,” Holden said. “Everyone saw the opportunity to build a campus community.”

New group helps build campus community

Both Forrester and Holden note the value that providing musical opportunities has for OTC students. By having the jazz band, Holden says “this directly impacts and benefits the students: they can participate whether they are a music student or not, and it helps with continuing practice and resumé building.”

She adds that for the college, too, it’s an added benefit to have a student organization that can play at events and builds upon the campus community.

Forrester has made the admission requirements simple to join the jazz band.

“All you have to do is be able to read music,” he said. “I don’t even mind if the students have never had jazz experience.”

A man speaks from behind a podium
An OTC Game Changer Grant Award has allowed music instructor Phil Forrester to launch a jazz band at OTC. (Photo: Kristina Bridges, OTC)

A place for anyone to play

Through the grant, Forrester was able to purchase sheet music and instruments, including a drum set, a bass and a baritone sax. Working with a local music company, Forrester was able to come in well under budget and could use the rest of the grant money for an electric guitar, music stands, and t-shirts for the group. 

Because OTC is in large part a trade school, Forrester said he wanted to ensure that someone who was going into a welding or nursing program could still have a place to play instruments without devoting hours a day to the craft.

“Most of our students are not pursuing a career in this craft,” he said. “Some of my students haven’t picked up an instrument in years.”

Beyond having a safe place to continue playing and performing instruments, continuing musical practice during school has additional benefits. According to Americans for the Arts, a national nonprofit dedicated to advocating for the arts, playing an instrument can improve academic achievement, including a higher GPA and test scores. 

‘Honing the humanity of hobbies’

Keira Johnson, an alto saxophone player for the band, is studying general education at OTC and was excited to hear about the band opportunity, but was also nervous about joining a new group.

“I began learning the alto sax my sophomore year of high school, but would often switch instruments, so it wasn’t an instrument I was solely committed to,” Johnson said, adding that it has been six years since she graduated high school and she has only picked up her instruments a handful of times. “I didn’t think I was ever going to be a part of a group again. I can’t tell you how grateful I’ve been for this opportunity.”

Forrester says that one of his main goals is that members of the Jazz Band have fun.

“We’re honing the humanity of hobbies, that intrinsic love of music,” he said. 

Want to go?

The OTC Jazz Band, along with the OTC Chamber and Concert Choirs, will be performing at the OTC Winter Concert “Winter Joy” on Dec. 13 at 7:00 p.m. The concert is free and open to the public, and is held at Drury’s Stone Chapel, 900 N. Benton Avenue.

Nicole Chilton

Nicole Chilton is a Springfield-based artist, writer, and arts advocate. She graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia’s School of Journalism and writes for a variety of online and print publications. Her most recent work, “How Dreams Speak,” is available where books are sold. More by Nicole Chilton