STUDENTS | May 24, 2018
When Travis Cuckler, the music instructor at Gallistel Language Academy, is asked the recipe for winning a music competition, he lists three simple ingredients: hard work, dedication, and a whole lot of love.
Cuckler says it was the mixing of the three that led Gallistel’s band, choir and orchestra to receive Superior (1+) and Excellent (1) ratings at the Illinois Grade School Music Association State Competition—a first in CPS history.
Formed in 1939, IGSMA encourages, aids, and furthers music education for all elementary through high school students in Illinois.
Before Gallistel, a Chicago Public School had never entered the competition in three categories at once.
By the end of the event, Cuckler says judges were so amazed by the talent within CPS and, specifically, the young voices within Gallistel, that they would make a point to get up and talk to the students.
Cuckler says the group’s success was no surprise to him.
“I asked them in the beginning of the year if they were down for this challenge and if they wanted to do it,” said Cuckler. “They all said, ‘One-hundred percent, absolutely, let’s nail it,’ and they did.”
Victoria, a sixth grader, says it is Cuckler’s belief in each student that pushed her to be the best.
“He is teaching us that anything is possible with hard work and dedication,” said Victoria. “He puts a lot of time and dedication into us, and he teaches so many classes. I think my teacher is very special and I love him.”
Mylia, an eighth-grader who’s enrolled in all of Cuckler’s music programs, said it was his dedication that pushed her and the class to be the best at the IGSMA State Competition.
“Mr. Cuckler puts his heart into his work, and we wanted to work hard,” said Mylia. “We knew that the competition was what Mr. Cuckler had dreamed of, and we had to do something to make his dream come true.”
Daniel, a seventh-grader in Cuckler’s guitar, choir, and band classes says working with Cuckler and his classmates never feels like work. They’re like family, he added.
“Playing music with all of my friends is the best part of being here,” said Daniel. “This music program and my bandmates are my family.”
In 2013, Cuckler began sharing his passion for music at Gallistel after a maternity leave position turned into a full-time career. He credits his high school music and orchestra teachers for helping him realize his calling as a music educator.
“They made me feel so special and excited about playing music and being in a group with amazing people,” Cuckler said. “I knew that I wanted to do that for other people.”
He began his career teaching general music to Pre-K–third grade, but was asked to teach music to all grade levels after an expansion of the program.
Now, he teaches general music to Pre-K–second grade, and guitar to fourth–eighth-grade. He leads band, choir, orchestra, and guitar before and after school.
“Everyone says, ‘If you keep working this hard, you’re going to burn out.’ But we’re a big family here. The parents treat me like family. They cook for me and invite me over for dinner. The kids love being here. And the more things I add every year, the more it just makes me want to work harder.”
Cuckler said that he and his students are already preparing for next year’s competition. Their goal: set the bar even higher.
“I’m already talking to the parents about going to other states and competing there,” said Cuckler.
“We’re showing that CPS isn’t full of underfunded programs. The arts are well represented and there are amazing music leaders and students.”