Long tones—always play those long tones! These are the words of wisdom Markeises Russell, new Fine Arts Department instructional supervisor and co-band director, tells his students every band rehearsal. Long tones,extended notes one holds out for as long as their breath allows, help musicians perfect their sound quality for the rehearsal ahead.
For Russell, long tones serve not just as a valuable warm-up method, but also as a metaphor for his long-lasting, unwavering passion towards educational leadership and his journey to finding his dream job right at South. Even when he visited South as a high schooler for the annual Northshore Jazz Festival, Russell noticed something about the school back then that drew him here.
“[South] was one of those places that I really dreamed about working at, even when I was in high school,” Russell said. “Everything from the student volunteers to the overall vibe of the building, I was like, ‘Yeah this is where I want to be.’ If you would have told me all of those years ago that I would be working here, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
Before Russell found his way to South, he had an extensive educational career in the Fine Arts. His passion has reached far and wide, especially during his four years at Nicholas Senn High School in Chicago, where he served as the band director and head music educator.
“By the time I left, we were close to 200 students,” Russell said. “In a matter of four years, [I] increased the size of the program, received a grant for brand new instruments and did a lot of great work to bring music education to students who would not otherwise have the opportunity.”
Before working at Senn, Russell started his career at the Noble Academy, a campus of the Noble Network of Charter Schools in the city of Chicago, as a choir director, and expressed that he had learned valuable lessons throughout his time at both schools.
“A quote by Maya Angelou that comes to mind is something about how people won’t always remember what you said, but they’ll always remember how you treated them,” Russell shared. “I try to treat people with respect and dignity, and I try to always keep in mind that I’m dealing with a human being. That’s a lesson I carry with me.”
Senior Lucas Nguyen, who has been in marching band since freshman year, expressed that he appreciates Russell’s attitude. Nguyen not only respects Russell’s down-to-earth, friendly attitude during rehearsals, but also, his musical expertise as a fellow saxophonist.
“I wanted to try out for this solo for our marching band show and there’s this note that takes a lot of skill to play,” Ngyuen said. “He taught me what kinds of mouthpieces and reeds to use and how to play that note [for my audition].”
However, as a student, Russell himself had his own positive force to guide him along his passion for music and music education. For Russell, this person was Kevin Carroll, director of orchestras and assistant director of bands at Rolling Meadows High School.
“I would not have discovered my love for playing saxophone or teaching music had it not been for him,” Russell said. “It was always something that he was able to say that would get me in the practice room after school practicing for hours. I would say that he’s definitely my musical idol.”
Carroll recognized Russell’s love for music as a student, and expressed his pride towards his student’s achievements beyond high school and into college as Russell continued his passion for music and music education in the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.
“Frankly, what impressed me most about his Berklee experience was what he achieved there,” Carroll said. “Russell took advantage of the opportunity and ran with it, while looking toward his professional goals of being an educator. Getting accepted is the easy part. Parlaying the opportunity into professional success is the challenge and Russell has done it.”
Looking forward to his new position, Russell expressed his hopes for all members of the Fine Arts community at South despite the uncertain times.
“I think that if there was ever a time to be an artist, this is the time,” Russell said. “This is the time to challenge ourselves to be creative, problem solvers, critical thinkers and this is our time to be compassionate makers of art. We may not be together in person in a brick-and-mortar