At some time during his 34-year music career in Idaho, Mark Lasnick, Fruitland Middle School Band director and assistant director for the high school’s band, students nicknamed him “Laz.” And now, after having spent the past 18 years in Fruitland teaching youth how to hone their skills with their respective instruments, he’s ready to retire.
“I really had the best job in Fruitland. I get to work with middle school kids, then go to high school and hang out with them more,” Lasnick said in an interview last week. “I work with [Fruitland High School Band Director] Joel Williams. He syncs with me.”
Williams frequently visits the middle school to help Lasnick out with the sixth grade band students.
“It’s rare that two guys get to sync that good together. I learned a lot from [Williams]. We just clicked.”
It’s not just Williams that Lasnick will be missing, it’s the students, too.
“I think the kids at Fruitland are awesome. I’m gonna miss them. It’s gonna be sad when it’s here …,” Lasnick said. “Eighteen years seems like a long time, like it went by just like that. The seventh and eighth grade bands are sounding really good. I’d like to leave on a high note, and I feel like I’m doing that.”
Lasnick noted that parents with children in the district are “really involved with the kids, and the parent support is great.”
He also said he was pleased that the band students he has worked with have good work ethics. They want to be good players, so they work hard at it.
Lasnick recalled early in his career as middle school band teacher, leaving the band room to go to the office for something. When he came back to the band room, one of the kids was standing in front of the band, directing. Lasnick said he was proud that the students took the initiative.
“That’s the way it’s been. Pardon the pun, but I’m ending on a good note,” he said.
Lasnick said he may stay close to the Treasure Valley, because his three daughters live in Boise,and it’s always kind of nice to have the whole family around.
He started his musical career playing the trumpet, and he said if he had to do it again, he’d play the tuba and bass, because they kind of control the band.
Lasnick said he was, “fortunate enough to have Skip Bicknese as his band director,” and mentioned that he also got to work with Bicknese when he came to Fruitland to teach band.
“Fruitland is a band town. We’ve had a band here forever, since back in the seventies. It’s nice to be able to come into a situation like that,” Lasnick said.
Of working alongside Williams, Lasnick said, “One cool thing Joel’s done is we took the high school band to state, last year. He let me direct one of the songs. It was nice, I really appreciated that.”
Williams was happy to talk about the 18-year partnership between the two colleagues: “He’s really good at what he does,” Williams said. “His band is outstanding. His hard work is one of the reasons our high school band is successful. He teaches the students good attitudes, encourages them, and really gives them a good start. He is really popular with the students, too. He’s a fun guy. He knows how to have fun with the music, but also has high expectations for the kids.”
At the high school level, Williams oversees many bands, including marching, basketball pep, jazz and concert, with the assistance of Lasnick, who helps run small group rehearsals or leads groups when Williams is away. Williams said Lasnick’s work is consistent, and he is an excellent sounding board, who provides dependable, real and honest feedback. He helps Williams fine-tune rehearsals, or take a different view of the marching band show. Williams said the instructors usually are very involved working late nights for pep band, and early morning for rehearsals.
Lasnick is the father of three daughters, each of whom went through the Fruitland band program playing trumpet, clarinet, trombone and bass drum. Williams said the Fruitland band is at a pretty high level right now, and they wouldn’t be able to do it without an assistant director like Lasnick.
“He puts the time in and is super dedicated,” Williams said.
Before working in Fruitland, Lasnick taught band and choir for 17 years in Rupert, Idaho, according to Williams.
Lasnick spends the majority of his time working at Fruitland Middle School, but collaborates with Williams and the two work closely together directing Fruitland School District’s band programs. Williams said he and Lasnick are “a really good team.”
One of his favorite memories with Lasnick, Williams recalls, was the 2011 District III Marching Band Competition.
It was early on in the competition and the students were competing at the 5A level. The kids had a really good show. Awards were given out at the end of the night, and the Fruitland Band students earned second place overall. Williams stammered around, speechless and Lasnick said, of Williams’ shocked reaction, “That’s a first! You have no words!”
Another favorite memory was the Marching Band Competition in San Jose, California in the fall of 2000. Williams said “we get the judges’ packet before awards are announced, so you can check it for errors. We kept looking down, further and further on the list. Our Fruitland band name was at the very bottom of the list. We both roared and laughed. We were shocked, we’d earned first place. I have a lot of fond memories being with him. One fun fact is the first year he was here, we had new uniforms, and now for his last year, we’re retiring those uniforms.”
The community of Fruitland has been very supportive of the band program, Williams said, from parent involvement, to the school district administration. Band programs are expensive, but the community thinks it’s important. They like the band. It’s one of the most visible points of Fruitland. People form opinions about Fruitland based largely upon how our band students act and look.”
Fruitland High School has about 500 students, and the high school band program has been as big as 140, with typical numbers being 110 to 130 students, he said, noting it’s a big band for the size of the high school.
Williams and Lasnick’s final concert collaboration between high school and middle school combined bands was held Feb. 25, when the bands performed several pieces of music in honor of Lasnick including a piece from the movie “Star Wars” and a piece from the movie “Rocky.”
“If you’re gonna get in band in Fruitland, you’re gonna be busy. Every year we go someplace. I think it’s a great thing for all the kids. No one is benched, everyone is a starter. Mark has helped raise those kids up as young musicians,” Williams said. “But we will carry on, and we will keep up the tradition for the next person that steps into the middle school.”