‘The best job in the world’

Associate band director Benjamin Scharf shares his story of falling in love with music education

Though associate band director Benjamin Scharf only began teaching at HHS in 2020, his musical journey started in his childhood, when he took piano lessons. Scharf later became a percussionist at Lawson Middle School, then a saxophone player at Cupertino High School, he said.

Scharf said he conducts with passion and devotion for band students. (Photo by Veronica Zhao)

Scharf said his school band classes taught him the necessity of passion and hard work in order to achieve a goal. For example, in his freshman year, a week after he started playing the saxophone, Scharf said an interaction with a section mate pushed him to practice his instrument, he said. 

“There was a really mean kid who was also in the saxophone section, who turned to me and said, ‘Well, now I know at least I won’t be the last chair,’” Scharf said.  “And I took that personally. So I went home for that entire week leading up to this playing test and practiced for six hours per day. I did decently and I wasn’t the last chair, it was that other mean kid, which gave me some level of satisfaction.”

Scharf said these moments convinced him that music was his future because he knew he would not be able to pursue a career in something he was not passionate about. 

“I thought [pursuing music] would be my way of doing some good in the world,” Scharf said. “I figured if I can do the same thing my music teachers did, which established a safe place for all students for them to feel a sense of community and belonging, then I would be doing some good in the world.”

Scharf said he had the opportunity to participate in a fellowship, an internship for a music education program, in his senior year of San Diego State University. Scharf then became a student teacher for a year after graduating. He said these teaching experiences taught him how to be confident and comfortable while conducting on the podium.

While finally entering the field of education on his own, Scharf said he needed to call on his past experiences to curate a style of teaching that worked well for him. He learned to incorporate the authoritarian style of his middle school teacher and the more relaxed style of his high school teacher, a combination that fits his personality.

Scharf’s teaching style allows him to connect personally with his students, band student, freshman Iliana Genna said. The dedication Scharf puts into band allows students to consider him as not only a teacher, but as a friend, Genna said. 

“Mr. Scharf is a very fun person,” Genna said. “He also gives really good feedback. He’s a little goofy, but that’s good. He’s always making fun of our section when we’re dancing during songs.”

Band student, sophomore Bhavya Krishnan also values Scharf’s contribution to the band classes and the music department. 

“Mr. Scharf has a wonderful way of making band class more fun, and he is someone most of our age can easily connect with,” Krishnan said. “He’s also really kind and supportive, so I’m really grateful for all the support he’s provided. He has made the music education department here succeed.”

Krishnan said Scharf’s commitment to the program and his students goes beyond his fun personality, as seen in his kind actions. 

“When I was preparing for auditions, he would take the time out of his lunch just to help me prepare,”  Krishnan said. “He would go over all the music with me even though it wasn’t something he had to do.”

Future music majors who want to pursue similar careers have a bright future, and the altruistic nature of the job motivates him to work hard and help the students, Scharf said.

“[Music education] is incredibly fulfilling and really, really fun,” Scharf said. “There are not many jobs where you get to make as big an impact. My advice would be to practice a lot, especially during your late high school and college years. What you do in college is the peak of your playing and musical ability, because once you start teaching you won’t have time to practice.” 

Scharf said that what makes being a band director special is the time spent with students. 

“If I could summon sound from a field of rocks it wouldn’t be as fun because there’s no interaction. It’s the kids that really make all the fun and meaningful moments,” Scharf said. “Being a music teacher is the best job in the world. It fills my heart every day.”