Music brings people together. That’s what local musician and Key Largo School (KLS) band director Susan Bazin believes. It’s the reason she has spent most of her life in the industry.
From a young age, music played a key role in Bazin’s life. For years, she traveled Florida performing, finally settling in Key Largo. Two decades have passed since she began working at KLS and she’s never looked back.
Bazin is also a member of the Keys Community Band and concertmaster for Pops in the Park – free, family-oriented concerts performed once a month, November through April. The band is made up of retirees, semi-pros, students and “band geeks” from all walks of life, ranging from 18 to 80 years of age. Bazin said, “It’s not simply one person who makes music come alive.”
Full name? Do you have a nickname?
Susan Bazin. My nickname is Piklz (aka Piklz the Clown) because I was a professional clown for several years. I attended Clown College and learned everything from riding bareback elephants to juggling to tightrope walking.
What brought you to the Keys?
I grew up in Tampa. After getting a degree in music performance, I played with various orchestras and bands from Palm Beach to Key West. Deciding it was time to make a change, I moved to Key Largo thinking I could still travel to rehearsals and concerts up north. Late nights on the turnpike changed that pretty quickly, so I opened a recording studio here in Key Largo, taught in small schools, gave private lessons and amped up my clown services!
How did you get involved with Key Largo School?
I worked with a lot of band directors over the years and saw how much time and energy it took to run a good program, so when I was offered the job at Key Largo School, I agreed to do it for just one year. I ended up enjoying it so much, realizing I was making a bigger impact on more students than I could reach through teaching private lessons, and decided to stay on. That was 20 years ago.
What’s your favorite part about your job?
Definitely the students. Teaching sixth through eighth grade means I get to watch as they turn from little munchkins to young adults. I like to think I help them learn more than just reading notes on a page. Band is about being a family… a huge, diverse, odd, hectic family that flourishes on shared talent and experiences.
Did you always want to be a teacher?
My dad and grandmother were teachers, so I was hanging out in the teachers’ lounge long before I realized what I wanted to do. I started out teaching private lessons in college, which morphed into opening a studio in Orlando. A move to Fort Lauderdale brought me into the public school system and now teaching is a big part of my life.
Do you have a favorite story from your job you like to tell?
My favorite is about a student named Ismael. He was the only Monroe County student selected for All-State one year. (All-State is a program bringing together Florida’s greatest music students to learn from world-class conductors and teachers). Upon arriving in Tampa, I found out “Ish” brought his tuba in a case with no handle or latches. He and I carried it up three flights of stairs before realizing we were at the wrong location. Back down we went, following with a half-mile trek (that seemed like 30) – all the while carrying this large tuba. Ismael is now an accomplished composer and conductor in Boston. I believe it’s not about how you influence a child, but just that you do. I always hope their takeaway has a positive impact in their adult lives.
How did you get involved with Pops in the Park?
I needed a place to play, so I got together with fellow musicians who wanted the same thing. We began with a half-dozen people in the band, sometimes outnumbering the people in the audience, and are now at upwards of 40. We play Sousa marches, movie/Broadway, patriotic, classical and jazz. Each concert has a different theme and fun audience participation (sing-alongs, puppy parades, etc.).
What does a typical day look like for you?
My days start early with before-school lessons and end late with organizing for performances, school and the Community Band. I’m always working, but I love what I do so it’s a blessing.
Did you always have a love for music?
My music career began in fifth grade with the clarinet. I was horrible, squeaking all the time. I told my band director I had to quit and he said, “No, no. Try the baritone saxophone.” That’s a big instrument for a small fifth grader but I proudly strapped it to my bike. I was going to be a baritone sax player! Then, I promptly ran over my little sister and in a panic, I backed over her a second time. She was okay, but I returned to my band director and said again I had to quit. He instead gave me the flute. That was the magic ticket to a life full of travel, excitement and joy.
Do you play any other instruments?
Yes, but I excel only on the flute. My second favorite is the euphonium, which I often play with the Community Band. A good band director can play any instrument she’s teaching.
Who’s been your biggest supporter along your journey?
My husband, who not only enables me to do all this crazy stuff, but does it with sublime patience.
Who was your role model growing up?
My mom, who was constantly telling me I could do and be anything I wanted, but to make it my heart’s desire.
What’s one thing people don’t know about you?
I completely lost my house in Hurricane Irma. There was about 5 feet of water in the yard that washed away most everything, including my tuba, which apparently floats! We found it a week later about a quarter mile down the creek stuck up in a tree.
Finish these sentences:
The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is… Hug my husband. Then the cats (we have 10). Then the bunny.
My favorite type of music is… Everything, except rap, from original to odd music, like Sigur Ros (an Icelandic band).
My favorite band is… The Keys Community Band… No wait, KLS Band… No, no wait; it’s the Keys Community Band (you get the idea).
Working for Key Largo School and Pops in the Park is… so much fun and very gratifying. I get to help others share their music with the world.
Check out Pops in the Park for yourself! The next concert will be this Saturday, Jan. 18, at 4 p.m. at Islamorada’s Founders Park.
Interested in joining the Keys Community Band? Bazin says “even if you haven’t played for a while, the band will welcome you – no auditions necessary.” Call her at 305-394-1123.