The band prepares to rehearse together for the first time in over a year by playing outdoors, using specialized personal protective equipment for their instruments. (Photo by Emily Allshouse)

Band director to leave school after two decades building music program

Although he only intended to spend four years at Country Day, band director Bob Ratcliff is leaving the school after 21 years.

Ratcliff, who is largely responsible for building Country Day’s music program, is returning to Boise, Idaho, to spend time with family.

Ratcliff’s departure was due to a number of factors in addition to family. The pandemic created financial instability while his home in College Greens is worth more than it has ever been, among other reasons. It wasn’t a quick decision, either. Rather, the choice to leave was something Ratcliff had been contemplating for a few years.

“The timing is right for me,” Ratcliff said. “I’ve built the program and pushed it as far as it’s going to go.”

Senior Allie Bogetich has played with Ratcliff since fifth grade 

“He’s a little old-fashioned, but I think he’s a very good instructor,” she said.

Bogetich has played professionally at gigs with Ratcliff on multiple occasions, giving her multiple opportunities she likely wouldn’t have had otherwise.

“I wouldn’t have joined the Youth Symphony if he wasn’t like, ‘Hey, you should go audition for this,’” she said.

Head of High School Brooke Wells said he will miss hearing Ratcliff play at assemblies and local venues.

“He’s a phenomenal musician,” Wells said. “He leaves a good program.”

It was due to some students and teachers that Ratcliff stayed longer than he intended.

Ratcliff found the school through longtime friend Dan Ahlstrom, who was the orchestra director when Ratcliff came to SCDS.

Only a few years after Ratcliff took the job, Ahlstrom received a serious cancer diagnosis. Ratcliff decided to stay teaching at the school and help him.

After Ahlstrom left, the class of 2006 was graduating, a group of students Ratcliff had come close to due to their contribution to the growing music program.

“I wanted to see them graduate and that kept me an extra year,” Ratcliff said.

After that, Ratcliff bought a house and he found himself settling in the Sacramento area.

From there, Ratcliff continued to work on growing what would become a uniquely successful music program.

At one point, Ratcliff was asked to model the growing band program off of another successful program.

But there were none to be found.

Schools the size of Country Day that had diverse and successful music programs were all dedicated music schools.

“There are very few places in California where you can go to a school that has 130 or 140 kids in the high school and they have a concert band and jazz band and orchestra, chamber ensembles, choirs — and they’re all decent quality,” Ratcliff said.

While Country Day’s music program may not be the biggest or best, Ratcliff has created a reputation that doesn’t go unnoticed.

When Ratcliff attends conferences hosted by the California Music Educators Association, he is often chosen as a clinician to teach other band directors from local schools how to build programs.

That reputation has been built on notable accomplishments by Ratcliff’s bands, including placements in the Reno Jazz Festival (2nd place in both 2012 and 2016) and an appearance by the high school Jazz Band at the highly-respected Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Idaho in 2013. Country Day’s band also was featured in the promotional video for the festival.

“Being able to maintain a program as diverse as our music program at a school that is not set up for it … it’s been a real effort,” Ratcliff said.

But through that effort, he has developed a program that is well-respected in the music education community in Sacramento.

“I’m really proud of that,” he said.

He only has good things to say about the school.

“I really like this school. I mean,  I came here for four years and I stayed for 20 then there’s got to be some good stuff.”

Ratcliff will be succeeded by Kurt Pearsall, who has directed the middle school concert and jazz bands for the past four years, Wells said.

Pearsall met Ratcliff in the early 2000s. The two have played in multiple bands together, but most notably, they played in a monthly big band for over a decade up until the pandemic.

“What I will always remember about Mr. Ratcliff is after knowing him for many years, I saw how happy he was when conducting a large group of musicians here at Country Day,” Pearsall said.

Bogetich described Ratcliff as much more than a teacher.

“He’s almost like a guidance counselor. Anytime I ever need advice on anything I can be like, ‘What would you do in this situation?’ and he would tell me some outlandish story from his childhood.”

Ratcliff hopes Country Day’s music program will continue to see success, and he said he wants music literacy — the ability to read and write music — to survive.

While Ratcliff won’t miss teaching during the pandemic, the musical facilities or trying to convince others he’s teaching a challenging academic class, he said he has valued his experience here.

“It was worth it,” he said. “It was worth the time.”

— By Ethan Monasa

Originally published in the May 25 edition of the Octagon.

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