For St. Louis Community College’s Gary Gackstatter, music isn’t about music.
This sounds strange coming from someone who has taught, performed and composed music for more than 30 years. But when asked, the assistant professor of music at STLCC-Meramec will tell you the story of how he got started on the path that set him “on fire.”
“I was living and working in an area of Kansas where a wealthy developer wanted to dam up the last pristine creek, Grouse Creek,” he said. “They wanted to create a resort community, and all I could think about was that they wanted to deface our natural resources for profit. So I wrote the Grouse Creek Symphony. The five movements of the piece – Land, Water, Trees, Sky, and People – are about the beauty we can find in our own backyard and the value of our natural resources.”
One of the movements of the Grouse Creek Symphony, The Sky, was performed at the Vatican as part of the Second Annual Youth and Young Adult Festival for the Epiphany on Jan. 3, with Pope Francis in attendance. Gackstatter found out about the papal performance in late November, when he got a call from a representative of the Saint Bernard School Concert Band in Uncasville, Conn., the high school band invited to perform at the festival.
“I chose The Sky for our performance because it has a deep connection with all of our band students,” said Caitlin Meyer, conductor of the Saint Bernard School Concert Band. “The first year we performed the work, in 2013, our students were hooked.”
Gackstatter was understandably excited upon hearing the news.
“I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’” he said. “It was humbling, to say the least. One of those unexpected gifts you get now and then.”
Gackstatter teaches Music Appreciation, Beginning Guitar, Basic Music, and leads the Symphonic Band and Orchestra at Meramec.
“He inspires students in the classroom”, said Jerry Myers, professor of music and coordinator of the Music program at Meramec. “I am privileged to collaborate with him on concerts each year.”
In addition to regularly composing, he plays the trombone, trumpet and guitar, creates art using pen and ink, and has published two books, including a music appreciation textbook titled “The Spark.”
“To me, art, music and teaching are all fingers on the same hand,” Gackstatter said.
To learn more about Gackstatter’s art, music and teaching endeavors, find him on Facebook.