By Mary Catherine Machalec
Special to The Texas Catholic
Ken Utz started playing the trumpet in sixth grade.
He was a new student to Christ the King Catholic School, and that’s where he says he fell in love with music — with the challenge, the reward, the fun. From 11 years old, he was hooked.
Band took him through high school at Jesuit College Preparatory School and the University of North Texas to interning with the band program, and eventually teaching full-time for the Music Learning Band Program in Dallas diocesan schools.
However, he never could have imagined that after almost 20 years since he first began at Christ the King, he would return to instruct the students who sit in the same chairs he once did.
“It’s a really special experience for me. Growing up, I was always taught to give back to the community, to serve, and to do that at a place that gave me so much means a lot,” said Utz, who is entering his 19th year of teaching and currently serves at the Vice-President of Operations for Music Learning Band. “At Christ the King Catholic School I learned some of the best lessons. Not only music, but math and literature, so to come back and do that for the next generation is indescribable.”
Utz has dedicated his life’s work to teaching and instilling the love of music in children everywhere, but he said it takes on new depth to continue in the footsteps of the very teachers who inspired him.
“Scripture says to make a joyful noise, so that’s where we start,” said Utz, who joked that there are lots of “joyful” noises, especially teaching beginner band. “It’s my job not to take that first attempt and discourage them in any way. We all have different levels of talent and everyone needs help to figure out how to get better.”
Utz makes careful effort to use the tools God has given him to encourage his students day by day to improve. His favorite part is watching them grow into their gifts and discover a love of music themselves. Amazingly, one of those students is his very own daughter, Natalie, who is a fourth-grader at Christ the King.
“I taught her in the home, but this is the first time I’m her real teacher. She keeps me honest, and it’s fun to see her learn,” Utz said. “For her to do something that means so much to me and that I get to be the one to teach her is really full-circle.”
Their father-daughter relationship has translated over to the classroom, which Utz says caught him by surprise, but also calls him to a higher standard of teaching.
“It’s pretty humbling. I don’t want to mess it up for any student, but I really don’t want to mess it up for her,” Utz said.
Utz and his daughter are not the only ones in the family to be a part of Christ the King School. Utz’s mother has also been a faculty member for 20 years, solidifying their legacy that now spans three generations.
“The Utz family have a such a positive legacy going back to 1993,” said Patrick O’Sullivan, who serves as the president of Christ the King Catholic School. “We are thrilled to have Ken back here, planting seeds that will one day grow as members of our CKS band go on to play at Jesuit and Ursuline. His passion for music combined with his skills as a teacher are perfect for our Crusaders to start their day.”