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Turning Lead into Gold

A day in the life of a creative genius, Gary Gackstatter

By Amanda Keefe

Three years ago, Gary Gackstatter, coordinator of music at STLCC - Meramec, threw out his television set. It served no purpose in the Gackstatter home. Instead of "doing nothing" while watching TV, the Gackstatters spend their evenings reading, drawing and listening to music, he said; and why wouldn't they? The arts are all too familiar to them. Gackstatter raised his family to understand and enjoy music and art in all facets. He said he is "constantly" exposing them to the arts to "develop character, and to give personality." His family's passion stems from his own. Gackstatter's love for music first struck him in the sixth-grade. "I went to a band concert and I heard them play Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5," he said. "I knew that was the meaning of life." Gackstatter said he came from a family that put a high priority on music and art. "Being raised around that always kept me interested in being original and authentic," he said. "I find true joy in inspiring others to be creative and to find their own creativity." In Gackstatter's ever-growing career, he is first and foremost a musician.

He has conducted, composed, taught and performed what he knows and loves most. He is the current coordinator of music at Meramec and has conducted both the symphonic band and the orchestra on campus. Before his job at Meramec, Gackstatter served as conductor at Cowley College, Southwestern, and Wichita State University. He also taught 12 years of public school. Additionally, he is an active artist, working on his most recent project titled "Pen and Ink," a collection of his art and writing. After much experience in teaching, he decided Meramec was the place to settle. "I've taught at universities, and I've got to say, I enjoy community college much more," he said. "It's an opportunity to take my music and my conducting to a new level." Gackstatter said he never felt that only the most 'talented' should play music, but that everyone should be exposed to it. Meramec has some of the finest musical groups around, he said, and the passion is contagious. "I'm trying to change the perception of music at Meramec with integrating exciting artists, and [involving] more students in the music program," he said. "[The school] found someone who wants to stay here and bloom where [he's] planted, and that's what it's all about."

To his obvious excitement, all of Gackstatter's classes were "packed" last semester. He said he wants to help students understand his idea that "music and art are as important as food," and he wants them to "understand what 'good' food is." "I look at my teaching as an art," he said. "How can I reach [my students] creatively? It's up to me to find new ways to reach students." Gackstatter's advice for budding musicians and artists is simple: "you have to have a vision of who you are, and you can never give up on that vision." "I always knew mine," he added. Although Gackstatter is a master of his craft, he said he always wants to know more and how to do something better. "I'm always looking for a new way," he said. The most important part of Gackstatter's day is being in front of his class, or in front of rehearsal, because that is when he is "completely alive," he said. In describing these moments, he said it's like walking a tightrope to maintain a constant energy. "Maintaining energy is creativity," he added. Gackstatter hopes that his deep-embedded passion for music and art reflects upon his students, because if a student has passion, "they can turn lead into gold," he said. He also says that originality is key in creating art, and that "finding your own voice and finding your own way" is most important. "Art never repeats itself," he said. "If it's easy, it's not art."

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