On the cabinet door above his desk Tom Mensch, Director of Bands for Whitehouse ISD, has a simple piece of white paper with black text that says “Never glance at the size of the mountain, always dwell on Jesus.”
Five minutes with Mensch and you will quickly know where his life is centered. With an existence that often resembles the first tune up for the band after a long summer vacation, there is always peace in his heart.
Speaking of that first summer practice, it is just about that time. It isn’t practice for Mensch, it is the real deal. This music man of many years was asked to step into the role of Director of Bands for WISD at the retirement of long-time leader Denny Whitley.
Mensch says he is honored to follow a man of the caliber of Whitley.
“What I see is a bunch of great kids who have been given the mantra ‘make your best better,’” Mensch said. “I’m changing that slightly to ‘making OUR best better.’ I’ve got to set that standard and I’ve also got to live it.”
As hard as he tried, Mensch just could not help becoming a band director. Born with that musical DNA, he learned the trombone and excelled.
“I was only a mediocre academic student in school,” Mensch said. “I am as ADD as the day is long. I couldn’t pay attention in class but I could pay attention in band and choir.”
Mensch went on to become an All-State trombone player and it was playing he planned to do, not be a band director.
This Penn State graduate met his perfect match at a collegiate music camp. It was a whirlwind courtship that led to marriage and a move to Houston immediately after the wedding.
From that first position at Lamar, an inner-city high school in Houston, to being hired over the phone for the job at Robert E. Lee High School in Tyler, it was clear, Mensch was meant to be behind the director’s stand. He was allowing God to mold his performance skill into what God needed him to do.
Mensch was an associate director at Lee for three years and Director of Bands one year. The band program was huge and growing by leaps and bounds when he was offered the director’s position at Tyler Junior College. Going from a program with more than 300 high school students to a program with only 35 current enrollees took a lot of faith.
By the time Mensch stepped into his new role at TJC, a vast recruiting campaign had brought in an additional 100 members. Life was good, band was great for 10 years at TJC. It was so good that his wife Heather was hired on and took over the jazz program in 2004.
“I lost my focus those last two years at TJC,” Mensch said. “It hurts to admit that but I did. I had lost my heart and my focus and it was time to do something else.”
After much prayer and some re-centering of his life, Mensch began directing the orchestra at Green Acres Baptist Church.
“The Lord let Green Acres grow me musically and spiritually more than ever before,” he said. “I was surrounded by the most incredibly talented people.”
Mensch was not looking when opportunity came knocking. When he found out about Whitley’s upcoming retirement, he felt the Lord telling him again to go and serve Whitehouse.
The passing of the baton would be bittersweet but Mensch says he knows the staff and returning students will quickly have him immersed in the Wildcat maroon and stepping off together in the right direction.
So much to do, unknowns, schedules, construction, budget, a 1,000 student band program and school starts Aug. 16, WOW!
“You get like Peter and just stare at the water,” Mensch said. “The next thing you know you start sinking. If I can keep my eyes on him and not the water, it will all work out. It’s just having each day structured and planned.”
Having everything in place, part of a master plan and everyone being on the same page is very important to Mensch. To expect the kids to be on task where they need to be starts with the example they see in their leadership.
“The thing for me and what I’m challenging our staff is in every aspect - What are we doing to collectively maintain that integrity in front of the kids? In how we walk, how we talk to them, but most importantly how prepared we are and how we utilize our time. That’s the challenge.”
What changes might people see? Mensch says the most visible difference will be adding what’s called a front ensemble. This is a group of percussionist on the sideline, adding marimbas and vibraphones to the sound of the band.
“No, we won’t be changing to a corp style program,” Mensch said. “The military marching tradition is truly an art form. The music is phenomenal. We are vested in maintaining the tradition and pride of the military marching band. Some of the finest music we can train our kids on is based on military style.”
Mensch says not to look for a pre-contest drill or pre-contest music. With so many unknowns when it comes to practice time impact due to construction he wants to get to work right away on their UIL contest material.
“We will start and keep our focus this year on our UIL drill,” Mensch said. “We have majorette tunes, drill team tunes and stand tunes. Our folder has 39 pieces of music in it. I know we won’t get through all of that but we’ll have that challenge. There will be lots of focus on the fundamentals on the field and in the stands too.”
As an educator, Mensch knows his role is more than teaching music and marching.
“This class isn’t just about music or just about band,” he said. “What we do within the confines of these walls is much more than that. When we start dealing with the technique of how you practice, showing a kid how to practice through the rehearsal techniques that’s key right there. When you show a kid how to be analytical about what they are doing then you create problem solvers and you’re creating a person that is able to feed themselves ultimately. That’s what makes musicians different. We are wired differently.”
Mensch never apologizes for his dual role as a child of God.
“My ultimate purpose here is to show these kids the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “Some of these kids may never set foot inside of a church but hopefully they will see the Lord in me, in how I respond to them. That’s the key. I’m called to engage and challenge.”