Brian and Beverley Ingelson led me past a small circle of students, wrapping up a rehearsal in the Palm Springs High School’s auditorium, and ushered me into a small conference room in the back. The room is packed floor to ceiling with musical instruments. Brian explains they’re trying to sort through and pack up 27 years’ worth of memories.
Brian is the director of the Spirit of the Sands Band at Palm Springs High School, and his wife Beverley is the director of the Visual Corps. The two are retiring this year, and they will be honored at the “Final Blast Concert” Wednesday evening.
The band provides the soundtrack for so many of the most memorable moments from high school. What would the triumphant touchdown with seconds to spare sound like without the band adding to the cacophony? How different would a musical sound if it only had a taped recording instead of the live band working in tandem with the actors, singers, and dancers on stage?
It’s not hyperbolic to say these two have led the school’s band to world renown. Since arriving in Palm Springs from Alberta, Canada, in 1995, their band and visual corp members have performed in more than 15 countries on five continents.
In 2013, the PSHS Band was selected from more than 2,800 bands and other groups in California to perform at the 47th Inaugural Parade in Washington, D.C., for President Barack Obama. Brian’s jazz bands have performed in concert with Barry Manilow, Carol Channing, Gavin MacLeod, and Suzanne Somers.
Community over competition
Brian and Beverley both got their start in Canada. Brian has formal training as a trumpet player and conductor, and Beverley is a champion in baton twirling and is formally trained in ballet and jazz dancing. As director of the Visual Corps she teaches dance, tall and short flags, rifles, air-blades, props, and batons.
Even though Brian and Beverley are both decorated educators and performers, they knew they wanted the band to prioritize community events over winning competitions.
“It got to the point where we thought, why are we paying for a bus to go to a competition for a trophy that sits in a cabinet?” Brian said. “Maybe the director can put it on his resume. But what is that doing for the kids?”
Instead, for most of their 27 years at PSHS, the two have prioritized becoming more invested in local events. Brian estimates in a typical year, the band performs in more than 100 events across the Coachella Valley ranging from ComicCon and charity events to performances for local politicians.
One of the core tenants for the Ingelsons is the value of cultural exchange through music. When they decided to stop competing, rather than limiting the students, it opened up the world to them. Beverley says, “Music has a global language, and it doesn’t require translation.”
They’ve taken the band and visual corps to perform on the main stage at the Sydney Opera House, Westminster Hall in London, on the Great Wall of China, the steps of Capetown City Hall, and a dozen more world capitals.
Brian is confident in his decision.
“Instead of sharing music for an award, why don’t we go and share our music for an experience the students will never forget?” he said. “That way, we’re serving a higher purpose.”
Brian says he still has kids calling him who graduated more than a decade ago, telling him the trip they went on was one of the highlights of their life. He pauses and collects himself, saying, “It hits you when they say that. It really hits you.”
Nobody turned away
The Ingelsons have seen how the arts can forge meaningful connections across languages and borders, and Brian wants to continue that work after retiring from PSHS — especially after seeing how arts education is underfunded.
“We need advocacy for music programs,” he said. “I also want to work on helping the new generation of band directors.”
Beverley is a registered nurse, and she donned her scrubs to help fight the pandemic when it was at its peak. She is now in the final stages of earning her Ph.D. in philosophy of nursing after decades of experience in research and co-authoring several scientific journal articles. She took a step back from teaching visual corps four years ago to begin the coursework.
“You don’t just wake up one day and say, ‘I think I want to be a Ph.D.!’ It’s a huge lifestyle change, and I’m not doing it to get the letters and be in an ivory tower. It’s to be a person who promotes the professional nurse.”
Brian adds, beaming, “When she first started teaching here, she taught the certified nursing assistant program, and 100% of her students passed and ended up in the profession. Since that time, we’ve had an unbelievable number of students, both in instrumental and flags, who’ve gone on to careers in nursing or medicine. These are award-winning nurses. Some are doing telemedicine, or they’re out in helicopters, they’re physician’s assistants, or working in the White House.”
Through their combined passion, Brian and Beverley have inspired countless students, whether through travel, music, dance, nursing, or just simply opening up the auditorium and declaring it a place where their students can express themselves and be welcomed no matter what.
“They come in, and they’re allowed to be a goof and mess up a million times because they know they have a family that will support them,” said Beverley.
She added, “We don’t hold auditions. We accept everybody. As long as we’ve worked together, inclusion has been the basis, not exclusion.”
The two have accepted students into the band regardless of ability or income.
“We’ve had members who are hard of hearing, but they learn to feel the pulse of the music. Does it impact the look of the group? Sure. But that doesn’t matter,” asserts Beverley.
“We’ve had members who couldn’t march in step because they had processing issues. But they were right there with us when we were marching in the inaugural parade for the President. Another member broke his ankle right before the trip to D.C., but he was there, being pushed in a wheelchair down the parade route.”
Thanks to community support and fundraising, every member that wants to participate in the band can do so regardless of their ability to pay. The fundraising pays for the instruments and the trips that are so vital to the Ingelsons.
Pushing through the pandemic
We all know the pandemic affected every kind of teacher in unique ways. As a music teacher, Brian had to consider that some kids may not have a private room to practice if both parents are working from home, or they may have a sibling trying to learn nearby. So many kids fell behind on practice or dropped music education altogether.
“To really come back to the full program, I knew it was going to take several years because a lot of students dropped. Kids can’t just pick up an instrument and then put it down for a couple of years and come back.”
The two had faced hardships over their decades of teaching, but neither they nor anyone else could have predicted what was in store for teachers during the pandemic.
Beverley says her husband took it all in stride. On the first day of Zoom classes, she says she was listening from another room as Brian took a deep breath and started to teach.
“I swear, I stopped, and I went. ‘Yep, that’s magic,’ What he’s doing for them, speaking through Zoom and bringing them into his world and staying positive, that’s magic. I already knew he was a master teacher, but it was just reinforced on that day under the most difficult circumstances.”
The next generation
Within minutes of sitting down with the Ingelsons, you can tell that they possess that rare quality that makes them the type of educator kids remember for the rest of their lives.
All of us can think back to that one teacher in drama, history, English, or math that changed our lives. Maybe they gave us advice at just the right moment or encouraged a passion we wouldn’t have thought to nurture. Or perhaps they just opened their classroom so we could feel less alone.
There’s no doubt the Ingelsons will be missed from PSHS, but they’re content with leaving the door open for the next generation of band directors, beginning with their son Matt.
Matt Ingelson, as band director at Desert Hot Springs High School, created the “Coachella Valley Virtual Concert Band.” He produced weekly performances for teachers and students by sending out the sheet music, then collecting the individual videos from the musicians and putting it all together.
His parents couldn’t be prouder, “That was his baby. It’s extraordinary. Even though people couldn’t physically be together, they could still come together through music,” said Brian with a smile.
Final performance: The PSHS Spirit of the Sands Band and Visual Corps “Final Blast Concert” is Wednesday evening at 6:30 p.m. at the high school’s Richard Center for the Arts. Admission is free.