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Sandy Journal

Alta High’s Shabestari receives UHSAA music honor as he directs at his alma mater

Feb 03, 2023 12:05PM ● By Julie Slama

UHSAA executive committee member Craig Morris congratulates Alta High’s instrumental music director Caleb Shabestari Jan. 11 as the music educator of the year. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

When Caleb Shabestari was an Alta High student, playing tenor saxophone in band was where he flourished. 

“I was one of those kids who thrived in band and didn’t with everything else,” he said. “Academics were harder for me, but I thrived in band with the creativity it gave me. I made a lot of friends there even though it was hard to make friends as I had social anxiety when I was 15 years old. I really kind of found my home here in the band.”

Fast forward a few years and Shabestari returned to his alma mater as an assistant to his band director, Bill Mattingly, who had just started the return of the school’s marching band.

“I looked up to my band director so much, and I knew I wanted to teach band for my life. I went to school for it, but I never thought I would be teaching here, and little did I know I would take over for him,” said the University of Utah graduate.

It’s been 10 years since Shabestari returned to Alta and the music program has grown both in numbers and recognition, including earning a state marching band title in 2014, all while giving students that same sense of “home” he felt as a student.

That hasn’t gone unnoticed. On Jan. 11, the Utah High School Activities Association executive committee member Craig Morris recognized Shabestari with a wooden plaque as 2022 music educator of the year.

“I really love that he went back to his alma mater and is giving back to a program that meant so much to him and is trying to provide that same experience and opportunity for the kids at Alta High School,” Morris said. “There’s no greater way to show appreciation and impact for the experiences that you had in education, then going back and choosing to do that as well.”

It all came as a surprise to Shabestari.

“I didn’t know I was nominated, and I have no idea who nominated me, but it’s great to be recognized. My goal is to make sure my students are always having a good time and learning a little bit along the way too,” he said.

The award, Shabestari said, is a great “pat on the back,” but his passion is what drives his teaching and that’s the lesson he teaches his students as well.

“I tell my students all the time when we were competing at a festival or at a marching band contest that we’re never in this to win the hardware. Trophies are always secondary. I always try to teach intrinsic motivation, rather than extrinsic. We, my students and I, do what we do, because we’d love it,” he said.

Right now, that’s winter guard and winter drumline, which has a six-competition season capped with state championships on April 1 for winter guard and April 15 for the drumline. The drumline program at Alta began in 2015 under Shabestari, and the color guard program came the following year.

At the same time, it also means concerto night at 6 p.m., Feb. 23, which will feature nine student soloists. 

Then, region and state contests are held this spring with jazz, band and percussion festivals in late March and orchestra in April.

Shabestari also is working on next season’s band and marching band program.

“We are planning a tour for 2024 to New York City, which is going to be a lot of fun. We’re prepping for our marching band season and we’re going to compete in the Bands of America regional again in November. We are already talking about Canyons all-district marching band; it’s a really fun, big collaborative group that we do every summer with all the other district schools,” he said.

The 95-member marching band already has become known in the community and beyond. In 2017, under Shabestari’s direction, Alta High marched in Washington, D.C.’s national Memorial Day parade by invitation and in 2019, students were featured on the Disney+ television show, “High School Musical: The Series.”

Eventually, he wants Alta’s marching program to grow to 150 members and to compete at the Grand Championship Bands of America.

“Our marching band has thrived and I’m really proud of that aspect more so than the awards,” Shabestari said. “We’re having a positive effect on the community. Over the summer, when we’re marching through the neighborhoods and practicing, we will have parents and families run out in their lawn and just start dancing and singing and having fun. It’s really making an impact on our students, allowing an outlet for their creativity. A lot of these kids are shy, very introverted and needing a place like I did, and it’s really great to get them in an ensemble where they can thrive, be excited and just be happy with what they’re doing in high school.”