Roger Eckers Strikes Up the Band
Music was in Roger Eckers’ bloodlines. Perhaps the Minnesota native had no choice other than to pursue this particular passion. That became good news for Rush-Henrietta, where Eckers spent 33 years teaching high school students how to play, perform, and enjoy music.
Funny thing, the plans we have for our lives. Eckers intended to teach for a single year, then he would travel the world and perform professionally. Those plans changed unexpectedly, though. “I settled in,” he told the Democrat and Chronicle in 1998, as he reminisced about his time at Rush-Henrietta. “I liked the kids. I must have internally quit a dozen times. But I started to really like to teach.”
His mother was a piano teacher and leader of a popular local band called the Eckers Orchestra of Minneapolis. As a child, Eckers himself played several instruments, one day identifying the saxophone as his favorite. He eventually joined the family orchestra and played regularly.
After moving to New York in 1964, Eckers studied at the Eastman School of Music and secured what he presumed would be a a temporary gig as a teacher. Before long, though, he was well-known for his work as high school band director, leading the concert band, jazz band, pit orchestra, competitive marching band, and pep band.
His distinguished R-H teaching career began in 1965 and ended more than three decades later when he retired in 1998. Eckers also provided private lessons for more than 50 years, happily providing guidance and support to musicians too numerous to count. Some of his students went on to become music teachers, college music professors, and even professional musicians.
In the process, Eckers created a template for how to have a successful musical career and life. That is how Scott Mayo, a well-known professional musician and member of the R-H Class of 1980, remembers his mentor. “He always said he saw no reason musicians couldn’t have it all; a good life and a decent income,” says Mayo, a gifted saxophonist, flutist, singer, composer, and Grammy-nominated musician and producer. “He, more than anyone, is the driver that pushed me to do what I do as a musician and I’ll be forever grateful for his example and his friendship.”
Performing with his quartet and big band, Eckers was a staple of the local music scene. He was described by the newspaper as “an easygoing sort with a ready laugh.” He was easy to pick out of the crowd, too; he was the one with a saxophone in his hands.
Eckers died March 23, 2022, at age 78, but his legacy lives forever. He was as passionate about his students as he was about the music he created and played, and that made an indelible impression on so many.
“To see the impact he has made on so many students is something really special,” says Brian Levy, R-H Class of 1979, who played in the concert band under Eckers’ leadership. “The music, theater and art departments in Rush-Henrietta were and are a blessing to so many. Roger was a huge part of what happened over all those years and what was to follow. He is missed and lives on through the impact he has made on so many.”
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