The Music Man. Zionsville teacher spreads the gift of music in concert venues and the classroom.
Writer / Rebecca Wood
In full view of the student body, the school principal grabbed Weirich by the shirt collar and escorted him out of the building. Outside, the principal unleashed a fiery tongue-lashing, using words that still linger in Weirich’s mind today.
Weirich wanted to quit music, but his musician father convinced him to stick with the saxophone. His father’s sage advice changed the trajectory of Weirich’s life and future generations of budding musicians.
Few that hear this story believe Weirich could botch a performance. The adolescent, fumbling musician has transformed into a talented, sought out performer whose passion is spreading music through both concert venues and the classroom. “The irony is that all these years later I’m a middle school band teacher and a professional musician,” Weirich laughs. “It’s funny how things work out.”
During weekdays, Weirich can be found directing the band at Zionsville Middle School. Come Friday night, Weirich is performing in concert venues across the Midwest. Weirich is grateful that he can do both. “I heard the expression, ‘Those who can’t, teach,’” says Weirich. “I want to be someone who can do what he teaches.”
Weirich began performing professionally as a college student. His sophomore year at Ball State University, he landed a spot in the backup band for the Temptations. Weirich fondly recalls touring with the band.
A 70s disco show at Cedar Point Amusement Park was Weirich’s next performing gig. “For six months I played the exact same show six times a day, six days a week. I performed the same show over 800 times,” Weirich chuckles. “It drove me crazy. I started to feel like a robot.”
Weirich continued to perform in many different capacities with numerous colorful experiences. He toured the Bahamas with a Carnival Cruise Line band. He also served on a West Coast Princess Cruises’ band that journeyed from San Francisco to Alaska.
Weirich has played with an extensive list of musicians and bands. Notable names include Sandi Patty, The Four Freshman, Randy Brecker, and the Lawrence Welk Orchestra. Working with George Clinton & the Parliament Funkadelic ranks as one of Weirich’s most memorable experiences. How Weirich connected with the band is a story in itself.
Weirich recalls sitting in a practice room at Ball State University when his friend rushed into the room and announced that George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic were coming to his house. Weirich remained skeptical about his friend’s announcement.
“It was a Wednesday night in Muncie, Indiana,” Weirich recalls. “Wouldn’t you know it, about midnight this tour bus arrives at his house. George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic walk out with their instruments and immediately took over the music for this party.” The band invited Weirich to play with them that night; he refers to the experience as “magical.”
Of all the musicians Weirich has played alongside, his favorite is performing with his father, a bluegrass and folk musician. “We just have a really special connection when we get to play music together. Whether it be on a stage, or in front of a church, or strumming guitars around a campfire, it is very special to me,” Weirich asserts.
Today, Weirich regularly plays with the nine-piece rock band Groove Essentials. At every Colts home game, Weirich performs outside the stadium with the Colts’ band, Showtime Brass. He prefers performing close to home on the weekends to be near to his wife, Katie, and their three young children in Zionsville.
In his illustrious career, Weirich ranks receiving a 2001 Grammy nomination as a highlight. Although Weirich did not win the award, he considers it an honor to be nominated and enjoys sharing the experience with his students. While Weirich loves performing, his greatest joy is teaching music.
For the last 16 years, Weirich has served as the director of bands and music department chair at Zionsville Middle School. In his role, he teaches 420 band students. The Zionsville Middle School band is the largest middle school band in the state. Weirich beams when he discusses his students. “Middle school kids have so much energy, and they are not afraid to try new things,” Weirich asserts. “The hardest thing for me is to see them leave at the end of the school year.”
The secret to teaching middle school band is to maintain a sense of humor and to consistently keep the material fresh, Weirich maintains. He also credits a great partnership with other faculty and administrators, coupled with support from parents, as keys to his success. Zionsville Middle School principal, Sean Conner, notes that Weirich is always wearing a smile.
“He loves what he does; he loves interacting with his students,” remarks Conner. “He has high expectations, and he supports students in meeting those high marks. He is able to entice students to do their best, and they are eager to invest for him. It’s such a mix of a positive environment and a talented musician who is adept at teaching others.”
What’s clear is that Weirich is a beloved member of the middle school faculty. He has consistently earned accolades and awards for his teaching, including “Teacher of the Year,” “Most Valuable Educator,” and “Music Educator of the Year.”
Betsy Corridon, whose two sons played in the Zionsville Middle School band, gushes about Weirich. “Josh is one in a million,” declares Corridon. “Josh has big ideas, and he’s not afraid to use them. He models that for his students. He believes in them, and that helps them believe in themselves.”
Conner believes that Weirich’s professional performing contributes to his success as a teacher. “I think the fact that Mr. Weirich is a practicing musician, one who plays gigs most weekends, lends an authenticity to what he does,” states Conner. As a teacher, Weirich hopes to instill a lifelong passion for music in his students.
“Music doesn’t have to be just a subject you take in school for a few years and then don’t ever touch again,” argues Weirich. “You can continue to enjoy it throughout your life. Many of my students are not still playing their instruments, but hopefully they have gained an appreciation of music and have become informed listeners.
Even if they are not performers, they will be great audience members.”