Jana Gorham was speechless.
The retired Owasso band teacher, who had poured her last 30 years into developing junior high and high school students, attended the Oklahoma Bandmasters Summer Convention last week simply as a spectator.
“I had absolutely no clue,” Gorham said. “I was just there to watch.”
At least, that’s what she had thought when she arrived for the event held at the Renaissance Hotel in Tulsa. As Owasso Public Schools Fine Arts Coordinator Chris Barber, the presenter of the
Oklahoma Bandmaster Association Director of the Year award, began to divulge the winner’s credentials, Gorham became confused and a little uneasy.
Barber eventually announced it was Gorham, in fact, who was bestowed with the award. It also marked one of the few times, if ever, the director of the year award had been given to a person who did not officially lead a band program.
“It bowled me over,” Gorham said. “I had no thought, inkling. I would have been the last person in the room that knew who he was talking about.”
Gorham and her husband, David, who had won the award in 1997, had led the Owasso Bands Program for 25 years. David retired as Director of Bands for OPS in 2014. Jana retired this summer.
Gorham said she was humbled by the recognition, but was quick to credit those around her for the success she experienced with Owasso Bands.
“It’s not one person that achieves anything in education,” she said. “It’s the kids, the parents, the people you work with, the administrators. You can’t be successful in anything education unless you have parents who are going to support their kids, who are going to support you. Having the kids do what you ask them to do. Having administrators supporting how you say things need to be done. And a community behind you, like we have always had here. This place is the perfect place to be successful.”
The daughter of Eldon Janzen, a 45-year career as a band director which landed him in both the Arkansas and Texas halls of fame, helped continue a strong tradition for Owasso Bands. In 1996, under the Gorhams’ direction, the Pride entered the Oklahoma Bandmasters Association Championships for the very first time and came away as Grand Champions.
The Pride has captured finalist honors at both Bands of America Regionals and Bands of America Grand Nationals and performed in the Tournament of Roses three times under their regime among other accolades.
Following a 15-year run alongside her husband at the high school level, Gorham decided to move over to the Owasso 7th Grade Center and take to lead the junior high students.
It was a move that changed her life.
“When we had a vacancy, we didn’t want somebody going over there that didn’t know what we wanted,” Gorham recalled. “So I said I would go over there until we figure something else out. But I loved it and didn’t have any urge to go back to the high school.
“My own personal experience in junior high was terrible and I thought that’s what it was going to be like. But, if I had to do it 30 more years here, I wouldn’t change a thing. Because the (junior high) kids are more open. They still think you know more than they do. They will do anything for you.”
Gorham is part of the reason the Pride of Owasso is considered one of the elite bands in the state. But she said her greater impact has come when former students reach out to her on social media and let her know the last effect the band experience has had on their lives.
“It’s been a dream job,” Gorham said. “I knew that after I came here, I could never teach anywhere else.”