Rachel Roday has never been a student in music teacher Jessica Castaneda’s class, but the teenager can’t stop saying nice things about the Huntington Blue Devil marching band director.
Affectionately referred to as “Mama Cas” by many of the marching band members, Ms. Castaneda became the Blue Devils’ leader this past season. By all accounts, it was a very successful year and band members are already looking forward to gearing up again next summer.
As one of the band’s drum majors, Ms. Roday has worked closely with Ms. Casteneda. The Blue Devils were once again one of the top marching bands in New York, finishing near the top
Huntington marching band director Jessica Castaneda has a great sense of humor. (Darin Reed photo.)
A graduate of Middletown High School in New York, Ms. Castaneda obtained an undergraduate degree in music education with a performance certificate in clarinet at SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music. She earned a master’s degree in clarinet performance at the University of Oklahoma, where she served as a graduate teaching assistant.
Ms. Castaneda joined the Huntington School District’s music department faculty in 2011. She currently teaches fourth grade band at Southdown and Jefferson primary schools and general classroom music at Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School. Prior to becoming co-director of the Blue Devil marching band in 2015, she was the woodwind tech for four seasons.
“Ms. Castaneda and I first met when I was a freshman in the marching band and she was the woodwind instructor,” Ms. Roday recalled. “I spent the next two years absorbing all the information she taught us about clarinet performance. I came out of middle school really upset with my instrument choice and regretting taking band. However, spending two years with Ms. Castaneda as my instructor allowed me to reconnect with my instrument and love performing again. I really owe all of my current successes in band to her.”
The Blue Devil marching band is a family. The instructors, musicians and color guard members spend so much time together that it’s impossible not to grow close.
“For the past two years, I’ve been fortunate enough to work alongside Ms. Castaneda, helping the marching band reach its maximum potential,” Ms. Roday said. “Being her drum major helped me learn life skills and get to know Ms. Castaneda outside of the "clarinet world". She was no longer just a teacher, but someone who I could confide in and who I could look up to.”
As Ms. Castaneda travels to several schools in the district, students, teachers and support staff members have enjoyed getting to know her.
“Her passion and dedication to her students and her temperament and strong teaching skills make her an excellent music teacher,” Ms. Roday said. “I always knew that she would tell me the truth, no matter how hard and then she would help me achieve a higher standard. Ms. Castaneda pushes her students to be the best that they can be and that is evident with her fourth grade students and all of the students in the marching band program.”
The best teachers are not only knowledgeable in their content area; they can inspire, too. “I can personally attest to how influential and motivational Ms. Castaneda is,” Ms. Roday said. She’s also the best clarinet player I have ever heard. She can pick up anyone’s clarinet and the notes just flow out, regardless of the condition of the instrument itself. I have been lucky enough to play next to her in several rehearsals. Her surprise visits to the high school are always my favorite.”
Although she will be graduating in June and heading off to college, Ms. Roday’s thoughts will never stray very far from Huntington. “I am really excited about the rest of Ms. Castaneda’s career here in the district because I know she will help students recognize their true passion in life and make a lasting impact on hundreds of others.