Brian Nutting exhales and absentmindedly rubs his chin with one hand, lost in thought. Through the practice room door, a muffled bassline can be heard from a group of sousaphone players rehearsing in the nearby band room.
“It’s the little things in the process,” he finally says, “that are most rewarding for all of us.”
That, Nutting said, is what he enjoys most as director of bands at .
“A lot of those things are things that a lot of people – including parents and even administrators – don’t see. They are the behind-the-scenes magic for all of us.”
Nutting, 48, has taught music at Troy High School since 2000 and was recently . This summer, he will be inducted into the prestigious American School Band Directors Association – an invitation-only association for the country’s top directors.
“It’s been a really unique year,” Nutting said. “The bands have reach uncharted success, and then I have had the good fortune to have my own professional success.”
In the beginning
Nutting's road to award-winning band director began in eighth grade in Nutting's hometown of Mt. Clemens when he joined the school's band as a percussionist. Once he got to high school, he was asked to switch to trumpet, and then to horn and finally to tuba.
“I got money to play (tuba) in college, so I stayed with it," he said, "but horn is my passion. I only play horn any more.”
Nutting said his decision to teach came after a series of experiences he had with his own band directors.
“I had five band directors in four years, and I saw some really great ones and some really terrible failures. As a result, I thought, I love this, and I could do this. I’d seen enough to know that I think I could do this."
Nutting set out to become a band director, completing his undergraduate work at Western Michigan University before heading to Bowling Green for graduate work. After two years teaching in Bad Axe and eight years as director of bands in Eaton Rapids, he returned to the area and taught for a year at Bloomfield Hills Lahser High School.
Then, in 2000, Nutting settled in Troy with his wife and three (now four) children and took over as Troy High's director of bands, leading three concert bands, a jazz band and the school's 190-member marching band.
"I couldn’t imagine really being away from it," he said. "I'm so connected to the people aspect, and of course the music aspect.”
A simple philosophy
Nutting, who was nominated for Troy Teacher of the Year three times before being selected in 2009, said the core of his teaching philosophy has changed over the years.
"It’s now one sentence long: 'Students are more important than music,'" he said. "Because of keeping that belief at the front of our operation, kids feel like they belong, they feel that they’re important, they feel this is a safe haven they can escape to every day."
Known for his selfless, tireless devotion to his work, Nutting said he believes in a reciprocal, respectful relationship between teacher and student. "As a result, they’re willing to run to the moon and back with me if I ask them," he said.
"It’s kind of a hand-in-hand daily endeavor and not me just dropping out a list of ‘here’s what I want to do,’ but a list of ‘here’s what we’re going to do together,’ and we can go places none of us could imagine," he continued. "If we keep the relationship piece intact, the music will come out of it. That’s probably the key.”
An inspiration to students
There is no doubting Nutting is well liked at Troy High. Students agree Nutting is not only a mentor and an inspirational teacher, but he's also just a "cool" guy.
"Mr. Nutting is a pretty groovy teacher," freshman Matt Kong said. "He's so cool."
Junior calls Nutting inspirational. "He's a great teacher, and he teaches past the classroom," she said.
"He's really passionate about his job. He's really friendly, and he's not just a teacher – he's a friend," sophomore Matthew Rodriguez said.
"I think he loves what he's doing, and that's admirable," junior Joey Wright said.
"I think he does more for the students than he does for himself," added sophomore Nathan Buia.
But students aren't the only ones who are more than willing to sing Nutting's praises.
"What I really respect about Brian is the fact that he never makes these accolades about himself," band parent Merri Lee Jones said. "Whenever he gets one of these awards, he always turns it around to thank and acknowledge the support from the band family as a whole – parents, boosters, the community and, most importantly, the students."
Jones, who also handles public relations for the Troy Colt bands, said Nutting just wants his students to enjoy making music to the best of their abilities.
"He wants them to know that they are part of something bigger than themselves and that they each have something to contribute to the band and to the greater community," she said. "And his students respond to that encouragement and create amazing musical performances together.
"What parent couldn't get behind that?"
Nutting said he is looking forward to leading the ever-expanding, again next year. With more than 240 students – 190 of whom will play in the school's award-winning marching band this summer and fall – Nutting believes the upcoming school year holds much potential for the band program.
“We are bigger, and we’re debuting new marching uniforms and new marching drumline equipment this fall," he said.
But Nutting said the most rewarding part of his job isn't the new uniforms or equipment, or even the program's countless awards.
“It’s certainly not trophies and ribbons and awards – and God knows, you just need to look on the walls to see we’ve taken more than our share of top ratings and honors nationally and beyond – it’s none of that," he said. "It’s seeing students light up while in the process of learning to make music on a higher level. It’s seeing them grow in their musical independence. It’s seeing them choose to pursue it beyond high school because they can’t imagine letting it go.
"Whether it’s playing in a community band or maybe marching in a college band or playing in a college campus band, or playing in church just for enjoyment – it's seeing something ignited that will last beyond our four years together. Those things are the greatest reward."