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Updated: 10/09/2013 08:00:02AM

Students blossom under ‘Poppa’ Yopp

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FILE PHOTO
Fort Meade's band director, Mike Yopp, believes in a hands-on approach.

FILE PHOTO
Band director Michael Yopp directs the marching band.

PHOTO PROVIDED
Petrina McCutchen sings the National Anthem at PNC Stadium.

Pirates at Orioles June 13, 2012

By JAMES COULTER

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Michael Deladerea, 17, was heading in the wrong direction in life, but ever since joining the school band three years ago, his life has turned around for the better.

He now receives better grades, regularly attends church, and has developed a passion for music.

Not only has band taught him how to play the trombone and to sight read music, but to also better himself as a person, as he has learned how to act like a leader and to relate with his bandmates like a family.

Deladerea is one of many students at Fort Meade Middle Senior High School who have been positively influenced by band director Michael Yopp.

“He’s made a change in my life and so many others,” Deladerea said. “He has done so much for this program. He made us see that band is not just about playing for a football game, it’s more like we’re family.”

Before Yopp became band director three years ago, the school band had suffered for the past decade with changing band directors and declining membership.

The band had little more than a dozen band members who played less than ten musical pieces annually and who severely lacked confidence within themselves, let alone received support from the school and community.

Very few students wanted to be in band, let alone join or support it; but ever since becoming band director, Yopp now has to chase his students away after class.

“I have kids that I have to chase away every afternoon because they want to stay here and practice, and these kids get upset with me if I don’t let them play,” Yopp said.

The marching band now bolsters 80 members, with more than 100 students in the band program, much more than what the program had three years ago, and able to play more difficult, complex musical pieces per year.

Their performance has improved tremendously, as has their confidence, which shows with the many achievements they have garnered. Last year, the band received two superiors.

Last weekend, they attended the Lely FMBC Regional Marching competition where they received second place in class with their guard winning first in class.

The toughest challenge with transforming the band into the superpower it has become has been convincing the students to believe in themselves and to aim high with their ambitions, which is hard to do when they had been previously wrought with disappointment and low self-esteem.

“When you’ve always been told that you’re mediocre as a band, then it’s hard to get you to think that, yes, you can be better than that, and that is the hardest thing to break through with these kids, because they have been beat down for so long,” Yopp said.

Part of raising their self-esteem has been to treat them as more than just his pupils. To him, they are more than that. They are his family.

“He treats us like we are his adopted children,” Deladerea said. “He loves us, and when he knows something is not right, he goes to the moon for us, to do anything to help us out.”

His affectionate nature has earned him the nickname “Poppa Yopp,” as he teaches his students on a personal level, relating to both their music and their life almost as a father would.

One of his students, Meghan, 16, would know this well, as she is his eldest daughter.

“He treats them exactly as he treats me,” Meghan said. “They are like his little kids to him. He wants them to be just as good as he was when he was their age.”

His philosophy of teaching music is to expose children to the music that they want to play, that would inspire them to learn, and that would kindle a love for learning and playing.

“My philosophy is that you should always approach it as you are a performer, as something you are passionate about,” Yopp said. “And so my number one concern is that the kids walk away with this passion that will carry them throughout the rest of their lives.”

His teaching approach is completely hands-on. Rarely is there a time when he sits idly behind his desk. He is always up and about checking on his students as they perform, ready to step in and offer his assistance if they require it.

“I’m the type that I will try to keep instruments around my desk, if I have to pick up a trumpet or baritone or clarinet so as to help kids,” he said. “I want them to understand that my musical abilities are like theirs and that transfers to other instruments.”

On the field, as in the classroom, he rarely stands on the sidelines, but rather, with microphone in hand, mingles with his students as they perform, ensuing they are performing correctly, to the point where he becomes just as tired as his students after practice.

With more than 25 years of teaching experience under his belt, Yopp has become an expert in increasing the size and quality of his bands, as every band he has ever directed has more than doubled in size during his tenure.

Setting the goals high

Born in Tennessee, Yopp was raised with a love for music, playing trumpet in fifth grade, singing in the church choir, and even traveling with music groups such as the B.B. King Band.

During his third year in college, his former high school principal, who had been diagnosed with cancer, requested that Yopp take over the music program at his former high school, Faith Academy.

It was during that time that his music career began and his passion for teaching children blossomed.

He later moved to Polk County where he started the Lake Wales High School band (which was the largest in Polk County) and taught at several Hillsborough County schools.

He was later picked up by Webber University in Tampa to start the college’s music program and create its football marching band, the only one in the county.

Even after starting his new position at Fort Meade Middle Senior High three years ago, he continues to work at Webber University, though he much prefers working with the high school students.

“I am one of the lucky individuals who gets to teach from sixth grade all the way through graduate school on a daily basis,” Yopp said. “A lot of teachers can’t say that. They get stuck with one age group and that is all they get to teach. So I get to go from beginners all the way to really good players.”

At Fort Meade, he receives assistance from his wife, Angela, a 10th-grade English teacher, his daughters Meagan and Allison, 12th and ninth grade respectively, and even his own Webber University students.

Many of his high school students have gone on to earn college scholarships, and his college students have graduated to become productive citizens.

Even after vastly improving the high school band in both quantity and quality, his work remains unfinished, as Yopp always sets his expectations high and strives to do better, so that even when he misses his mark, he still manages to do better than if his goals were much lower.

“Part of what keeps my fire going is that I never set goals I know we can hit,” he said “I always set goals that are lofty. If you set a lofty goal, you’re more likely to achieve more than if you set a low goal.”


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