Fate leads Jasper to teach music for 26 years at BE

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By Mallory Bilger

MOUNT WASHINGTON " Having a career other than working in the family business never really crossed M.D. Jasper’s mind, until his father’s untimely death.

When Jasper was a freshman in high school, he lost his father, J.R. Jasper. Up until that time, Jasper always assumed he would pitch in at the family’s farm machinery and auto dealership.

But the death forced Jasper to choose a new path in life that led him toward music education. Although Jasper never imagined that he would teach, he has spent 26 years in the Bullitt County school systems doing just that.

It was an unlikely fate that led to a rewarding career that Jasper has decided to end this year with his retirement.

As a young child and teen, Jasper loved music. He sang in a gospel quartet at First Baptist Church of Mount Washington. While in college, Jasper thought he would eventually become a church minister of music.

But he knew in his heart music ministry wasn’t his calling, so Jasper went ahead and did some student teaching to fall back on.

“My student teaching was a bad experience. I swore I would never teach school,” he said.

Little did he know that his back-up plan would become his beloved career.

In 1976 while working at the Cyclone store in Mount Washington, Jasper got a phone call from his sister telling him there was an opening for a music teacher at Hebron Junior High School.

Principal Sue Powell was so impressed with Jasper she hired him over the phone.

Jasper thought he would again try his hand at teaching. Suddenly he fell in love with the classroom.

“It was the whole thing of enjoying the kids. . . getting caught up in their energy,” he said.

At that time, Hebron had a growing chorus and two bands, all under Jasper’s instruction. He stayed at Hebron until 1980 when he made a tough decision to fill a position at the new Bullitt East High School.

“I grappled with it for a long time. I knew this was going to be a challenge because it was a brand new program,” he said.

But Jasper was ready to take music education to the next level so he accepted the BEHS position. Except for a hiatus from 1986 to 1993, Jasper would spend the bulk of his career leading the Charger bands. Until two years ago, Jasper also was in charge of the choral program.

Jasper has seen the music program grow, flourish and even decline during his BEHS tenure. From leading the marching, concert and stage bands to competitions to teaching kids the meaning of hard work and respect, retirement was not a decision that came easily.

Senior Nicole Spurlock said Jasper has made a lasting impression at BEHS that won’t soon be forgotten by his students.

“I definitely know he taught us about discipline and respect,” she said.

Spurlock went on to say that being in band with Jasper has comprised some of her favorite high school memories.

“It’s just a blast. It’s just the best time of my life,” she said.

He said the spring competition trips to places like Florida, St. Louis, New York City and Canada rank among some of his favorite memories.

“We’ve made a lot of dreams come true,” Jasper said. “And the concerts have been good memories. The kids have learned self-esteem and self discipline. It’s been a very active department.”

Jasper said he always tried to teach his students that no matter who the audience " whether it be family, friends or competition judges " they always deserved the best the students had to offer.

Throughout the years Jasper said students really haven’t changed. He said it still holds true that you can’t teach children to have passion for music " they must develop it themselves. He said the biggest challenge for students now verses 20 years ago is the negative outside pressures that they face each day.

“Society is trying to do a lot of bad things to them,” Jasper said of the students.

Jasper said although BEHS administration was always very supportive of the music programs, youth were increasingly torn between taking the required courses and music courses.

“When I first became a band director, it never crossed my mind that there was any insecurity in that area, but now there is,” he said.

Jasper said music programs are a positive way for children to spend their time and creative energies. He hopes there will be a revival of the arts and humanities, especially music, in years to come.

BEHS student Joye Walton said the BEHS music program will be stronger because of Jasper’s influence.

“He’s showed us there’s more to music then just the notes on a page. You can’t tell that he’s passionate about what he does,” she said.

Jasper said he was disappointed that the futures of many of America’s educational music programs were in jeopardy. He said many students now look for technological short-cuts to do a lot of school work, but that doesn’t work in the world of band.

“What we do, when we make music, there are no short cuts,” he said.

But more than anything, Jasper said he was ready for a new adventure.

“More than anything else I was tired. I started looking ahead and I’m tired of fighting these battles,” he said.

BEHS Principal Debby Atherton said Jasper will be missed.

“Mr. Jasper has touched the lives of so many students,” Atherton said via e-mail. “Since I’ve been in the Mount Washington area, I’ve heard students say he made a major difference in their lives.”

Jasper will be retiring from one job but moving on to another. He has his Commercial Driver’s License and plans to work with his brother-in-law, who owns a business.

Through all the community concerts and competitions, Jasper said he undoubtedly will miss the students the most. And he hopes they will remember him, too.

“If there isn’t anything they can remember, I want them to remember that I was fair. I hope they’ll be able to say that I was fair,” he said.