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Meet Hannah Mowry, Roosevelt High School's new band director

A woman with curly blond hair holding a conducting baton sits in front on grass with birch-like trees in the distance.
Rebecca Woodbury
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Hannah Mowry
Trumpeter, vocalist and educator Hannah Mowry.

Hannah Mowry is bringing fresh ideas to the Roosevelt High School band program in North Seattle. The trumpeter, vocalist and educator succeeds longtime Roosevelt band director Scott Brown, who was named to the Washington Music Educators Hall of Fame earlier this year.

Originally from eastern Washington, Mowry spent the last four years as one of the instrumental music directors at Mt. Si High School in the Snoqualmie Valley, about 30 miles east of Seattle.

As a child, Mowry's family get-togethers always included playing instruments and singing. Her sister is also a school band director.

Mowry's preferred instrument is the trumpet.

"I chose the trumpet when I was in fifth grade, and I chose it for a couple of reasons," Mowry said. "Number one, I was kind of a tomboy at the time, which now I know that, like, gendering instruments is lame."

Instruments have been associated with gender stereotypes for centuries. These biases continue to create a gender imbalance among instrumentalists that lasts from their school days into the professional realm.

When she started playing in 2008, Mowry said only three girls in the sixth grade played trumpet compared to 20 boys. Influenced by her brother, who played trumpet first, and her beloved grandfather who was an army bugler, Mowry’s choice in sixth grade also had a lasting effect.

"I just exploded with love for the instrument. And that took me all the way, you know, to where I am now," she said.

Shifting from student to teacher

From piano lessons starting at four years old, through elementary, middle and high schools, Mowry had music teachers who were patient, loving and positive. She called herself “very lucky.”

"A lot of teachers motivate sometimes, kind of, based on fear, or they're really intense. And so the students are afraid to fail,” she explained.

While this approach can be effective, Mowry thrived as a student with positive, patient teachers. It shapes her own approach as a teacher.

Mowry studied at Central Washington University. At first, she considered becoming a professional musician and doing studio work. After she started teaching though, her path towards music education became clear.

"I started thinking in my second year of college, especially, like, how can I best give back to the world? Is it really through being a professional musician or is there something more?"

Mowry reflected on the impact of her own teachers, and that sealed the deal.

"I really want to go down this education route because I just, simply put, I'm not the human being that I am today without the music teachers in my life," she said.

Mowry credits her teachers with not only helping her be a better musician but with being a better person.

Live from Boxley's: Mowry - Krieger - Leather +

Above, left to right: Daniel Taylor, Ryan Donnelly, Jacob Krieger, Hannah Mowry and Bill Leather perform at Boxley's in North Bend, Wash.

Music education has evolved, in fits and spurts

Mowry's love of music led her to play jazz and classical styles, and even participate in drum and bugle corps.

"Music education has progressed," Mowry said. "I think it has become more normal to be a well-rounded musician.”

Having invested in multiple music styles, Mowry doesn’t think one kind is better than another, but rather that learning different styles and cultures makes someone a better musician. She said drum corps, marching band, jazz, wind band and orchestral music are all equal art forms.

“All those things have their unique place in the, in music and they each have something beautiful to offer," she said.

Asked about the obstacles faced by women in music, Mowry said it’s a big topic and an important one.

Reflecting on her own experience she said instrumental music, brass playing and high school band directing remain male-dominated fields. Looking back, she used coping mechanisms such as humor or identifying as “one of the boys” to help navigate that reality.

Discrimination, microaggression, objectification are still evident in the music business, and that includes music education.

As an educator, Mowry has prepared to address these issues in the classroom. She’s spent time researching what this behavior looks like, how to recognize it better and how to respond.

"My approach always, to this kind of work, is to show up lovingly, and to remember that, a lot of times, this behavior comes from ignorance,” she said.

Even without malicious intent, Mowry said that’s not an excuse for discriminatory behavior. She’s found getting upset doesn’t help so she takes a different tack.

“I always try to extend a hand and educate rather than get upset or, you know, be combative or accusatory, because none of those tactics work to create change."

The first new band director in almost four decades

Scott Brown led the Roosevelt bands for 38 years, and under his direction, Roosevelt’s jazz groups garnered four first-place wins at the world-renowned Essentially Ellington Competition and Festival, presented in New York by Jazz at Lincoln Center. He also shepherded the school's marching band, the Rough Riders, through annual competitions.

Stepping into Brown's shoes might be intimidating for some, but Mowry is excited.

"I have so much love and respect for Scott Brown," Mowry said.

Mowry called Brown a mentor and a friend, who is beloved by the community and students. She said they’ve been working together through the transition, as she learns about his story and program’s history.

Essentially Ellington 2019: Roosevelt High School - Things to Come

She is approaching the transition in two ways. First, by honoring the history and legacy of Roosevelt High School’s jazz program.

Mowry is asking students, parents and other stakeholders what they want to preserve, what is most important to them about the program.

Second, is the opportunity to honor tradition while also trying new things, elevating new voices.

"The music itself kind of works this way too. Honoring tradition and origin, and also making new and creating, and innovating," said Mowry.

“I think it's such a cool opportunity that we get to do both."

As the new director with a new perspective, Mowry has her own ideas for expanding some facets of the program. But, in the end, she said it's all about the students.

"They are at the heart of everything. Because that's what we're doing here is…we're serving students," Mowry said.

Mowry wants to involve students in the conversation from the start and continue that practice to foster long term collaboration with them.

"I mean, we're talking about some of the most talented, hard-working jazz musicians that are high schoolers in the country, in the world. They probably have some good ideas…and they probably have an idea of what they want their education to look like."

Roosevelt High School starts the 2022-2023 academic year on September 7. In June, the program announced placements for the upcoming year's ensembles with more than 70 student musicians participating.

"I think it's important for people to know that the decisions I make are always with the students at the heart," Mowry said.

Corrected: July 27, 2022 at 5:00 PM PDT
The original version of this story did not meet KNKX's editorial standards and has been revised.
Updated: July 26, 2022 at 10:20 AM PDT
Removed direct quote from Mowry about male-dominated fields.
Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.
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