Superior band director conducts finale of his school career

Dan Gucinski has shaped the musical talents of thousands of students. Today, the Superior native leads his final concert at the helm of Superior High School's bands. Everyone is invited to attend the free concert at 7 p.m. in the schools' Perform...

Mr. G
Superior High School music teacher Dan Gucinski directs the band on Wednesday afternoon at SHS. Gucinski is retiring after 25 years in the district. (Jed Carlson/

Dan Gucinski has shaped the musical talents of thousands of students. Today, the Superior native leads his final concert at the helm of Superior High School's bands. Everyone is invited to attend the free concert at 7 p.m. in the schools' Performing Arts Center.

"This has been a tremendous job," said Gucinski, who will retire this spring after teaching music for 30 years -- 25 of them in Superior.

The educator, conductor and trumpet player said he has appreciated the energy of his students and their musical maturity.

"It's hard to walk out of rehearsal where I'm not walking two feet off the ground," Gucinski said. "They're able to take the concepts I give them and work it through their instruments. When it happens, that's when you know success as a conductor."

His enthusiasm has left its mark on students, young and old.


"He just loves his job," said Jason Kalin, an SHS biology teacher and former student of Gucinski's. Kalin learned to play trumpet with "Mr. G" at Cooper School, then moved to Central Junior High and Superior High School about the same time Gucinski did.

"I played that many years because of him," Kalin said. "It was just fun."

The science teacher still pulls out his trumpet from time to time and plans to start guitar lessons this fall.

"He was instrumental in my development," Kalin said of the music instructor. "No pun intended."

Life lessons

Band changed Carie Burkhart's high school experience. She started her freshman year as a clarinet player, then "bugged" Gucinski to let her learn other instruments -- tenor saxophone and trombone.

"I went from being one of the shyest people in band to someone everyone knows," said the University of Wisconsin-Superior freshman. "It's kind of nice to know I left something there."

She said Gucinski is a very intense teacher, but also very supportive. Her best memories were the lessons where she struggled, but he kept telling her she could do it.


"He changed how I saw band," Burkhart said. "Playing third part is just as important as playing first part. You still need to play just as proud and just as loud as everyone else."

Gucinski also inspired her to seek a career in music education.

Darian Parker, an SHS senior, said he's gained much from Gucinski.

"I think he brings something different to our lives," Parker said. "He teaches us more than just music."

The SHS senior has learned about perseverance.

"He came to me as a saxophone player four years ago," Gucinski said. "Since then he's learned to play trumpet, clarinet, flute and French horn."

Friday, Parker will play trumpet in the Spartan Band and contra bass clarinet with the Concert Band. He plans to become a band director himself.

One of the things Gucinski tries to impress on students is that everyone is responsible for their own success.


"You learn to get along in a large group," Burkhart said. "Band is almost like the 'big picture' in life."

Musical performance

The educator has challenged youth with difficult pieces and fanned school spirit with the pep band.

"The best part is when we have a home game and the band is playing," said Kalin, head coach for the Spartan boys hockey team. "We love it."

Under Mr. G's direction, members of the pep band have traveled to Madison 12 times to play at state hockey tournaments, more trips than current hockey coaches.

"It's awesome to hear them down there," Kalin said.

Gucinski has left his artistic stamp on the music program at SHS.

"For Dan, each class, each band, was it's own opus and he composed a number of them throughout his career," said his wife, Carol.


The band he will conduct Friday could be his finest composition. They will play a variety of music, including Gucinski's all-time favorite piece, "Incantation and Dance" by John Barnes Chance.

"This piece got me into music education," said Gucinski, who graduated from Superior Senior High School in 1972. The music is so difficult that many small colleges won't even attempt it. "It's the piece I want to end my career with."

Seeing his current students meet the demands of the piece, the conductor said, has been his most rewarding moment as a teacher.

"This is the most challenging piece I've ever put in front of my band," Gucinski said.

Future plans

Like football greats Barry Sanders and Jim Brown, the educator is leaving at the top of his game.

"I'm old enough to retire; I'm young enough to pursue another career," Gucinski said. In addition, he said, "I feel the band program is at the highest level it's been."

Where will the music teacher go from here? He plans to become a truck driver.


"If anybody's looking for a driver, I'll be available in October," Gucinski said with a chuckle.

Although it's his last concert, the longtime educator will hand off his conductor's baton twice Friday night. Once to his successor, Joe Kasparek, who currently teaches band at Superior Middle School.

"I asked him to conduct one of the pieces to reconnect with the students," Gucinski said.

The other conductor will be a little younger. Parker will step up to lead the band. The conducting experience has raised the senior's respect for his teacher.

"I think the better the music program, the better the school," he said.

Music will follow Gucinski wherever he goes. Jazz, classics and 60s rock will waft through his truck cab. He sings with the Duluth Superior Symphony chorus and Concordia Church choir. And his trumpet will still ring out when the Big Woods Big Band swing band performs.

"It's a lifelong skill," Gucinski said.

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