Retiring Teacher Leaves a Ringing Legacy

Hendersonville High School bandleader Fran Shelton never settled for mediocrity. Photo by Tim Robison

Hendersonville High School bandleader Fran Shelton never settled for mediocrity.
Photo by Tim Robison

After 28 years directing the music program at Hendersonville High School, Fran Shelton handed off the baton on August 1. Needless to say, it’s going to feel a lot different for Shelton, and for HHS, this fall. Shelton graduated from Hendersonville High in 1979. And after earning a music-education degree from Mars Hill and a Masters at Appalachian State University, she taught in Robbinsville before returning to her alma mater as band director in 1987. Shelton always taught students to respect the music, respect each other, and play from the heart.

Bold Life: Your philosophy was to push kids, wasn’t it, to try to get them to reach their potential?

Fran Shelton: Absolutely. If you don’t hold that carrot in front of them and tell them what you expect, I don’t think they’re going to reach that level. They settle for mediocrity so much that you have to say, “No, we’re better than that. We’ve got to work harder than that.”

You took your bands all over the country. Did you enjoy that part of teaching?

Well, not a lot of kids can say that they performed at Carnegie Hall or Boston Symphony Hall. It was a thrill to open their eyes and take them to the Kennedy Center, let them see what’s out there and why you work so hard. That probably was the greatest part of teaching, getting to expose them to so many locations to perform for people, and for them to give back. We always put the group ahead of the individual. We’re not very good as individuals, but we’re great as an ensemble. So I think they learned to work together and do what was best for the group. They did what was best for one another, not for themselves.

I don’t imagine you can go out of the house much without seeing someone you taught.

I always see somebody. After going to school there for four years and teaching there 28 years, it’s all a blur. When I first got there I wasn’t much older than the students, so I’ll see people and I’m like, “Did I teach you or did you go to school with me?”

You set the bar high for music programs in the county.

I’ve had a lot of help. I’ve had wonderful students and wonderful parents, and they have worked and worked. They bought into it for 28 years, and by now, it was pretty much expected. It wasn’t a battle at all, it was just, “This is what we’re doing, so everybody come on, let’s go.”

What are you looking forward to in retirement?

Visiting with family, doing stuff with my father. I’ve got a new puppy, so that’s a challenge. And hopefully I can start playing my horn again, spend a little bit more time on the trumpet. That’d be fun. And I’m still the tour director for the North Carolina Ambassadors band. We take the best student musicians from all over North Carolina and perform in five countries — it’s a great thing.

To learn more about the North Carolina Ambassadors band, contact Fran Shelton at 

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