Panorama grad shares his passion for music

Greg Simmons in sixth year directing Jazz Bands at West Des Moines Valley High School

Music has always been a passion of Greg Simmons, band director at West Des Moines Valley high school. Mix in the art of teaching music to young people, and Simmons has found a secret to success. 

A Panorama high school graduate, Simmons is in his sixth year as a band director at Valley. He’s in charge of three Jazz Bands, consisting of 20 members each, and a 12-member concert band. He also assists with the Valley Marchmasters, a 140-member, all volunteer, marching band, as well as the Valley Symphony band and pep band. 

“I enjoy working with the students, seeing them grow into responsible people,” said Simmons. “I love the music and I enjoy being part of an organization that provides a safe place for students to grow up. Valley is a big place, the kids need some place they call theirs.” 

Simmons graduated in 1995 from Panorama, where he first became a talent on the tuba. He completed a bachelor’s in music degree at Simpson College in Indianola and earned his Education certification at the University of Northern Iowa. He taught at Gladbrook-Reinbeck for three years before joining the team at Clive Elementary in West Des Moines. He’s spent the last six years at Valley high school. 

Simmons, the son of Myrlen and Roberta Simmons of Panora, said when he was in high school the last thing he wanted to do was teach. As a student at Simpson, one of the local directors asked him to work with their students. 

“Getting this opportunity demonstrated that, maybe this was something I could enjoy doing,” he said. 

Simmons, who says he never preferred the small school setting he grew up in, has found a knack for teaching in a large school. Valley’s Jazz Band competes in the state’s largest Class 4-A division.  

“At Valley there is a lot of specialization compared to most small schools, but students get to experience excellence,” he said. “There is a group for everybody at Valley.” 

With Simmons directing, the Valley band program has distinguished itself at numerous local and state events, offering a wide range of experiences for all the students involved. 

The Valley Jazz Orchestra, Valley’s premier jazz ensemble, has presented award winning performances all over the state, as well as national venues such as the day Claire Jazz Festival, and the prestigious Essentially Ellington Competition in New York City. 

For the past five years, the Valley Jazz Orchestra has earned first place at the Iowa Jazz Championships. The Iowa Jazz Championships showcase 60 of the state’s finest high school jazz ensembles. It is held in Ames every April and features 15 groups from each of the four Iowa high school classifications. All ensembles perform in the daytime competition, and the top two bands from each classification perform in the evening finals inside Stephens Auditorium in Ames. This year’s competition is Thursday, April 5.  

In May 2016, under the direction of Simmons, the Jazz Orchestra was honored by being the only high school jazz ensemble in Iowa to perform at the Bandmasters Convention held in Des Moines.

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