Detwiler shines as leader of the Altoona Area High School band

Larry Detwiler cheers for the Altoona Area High School Marching Band before the start of a high school football game.

The Altoona Area High School music department has enjoyed success and stability over the past 17 years under the leadership of Larry Detwiler.

A 1984 graduate of Altoona Area High School and a 1990 graduate of Penn State University, where he pursued a degree in music education, Detwiler’s passion for music began long before college.

“I participated in music all the way through school,” Detwiler said. “When I started at Penn State, I actually started as an architectural engineering major, but I was leaving my required classes to go to Blue Band practice.”

It didn’t take Detwiler long to start following his heart.

“It became clear that that (engineering) is really not your interest,” he said to himself. “Your interest is really music, so I switched my major to music after my first semester.”

Positive influences

Detwiler named several of teachers who influenced him on his way to becoming a music teacher — specifically Darwin Bistline, the band director at Altoona during Detwiler’s sophomore year.

Additionally, he mentioned Mark Lusk and Dan Yoder, two of Detwiler’s music professors at Penn State, as integral parts of his education and career.

After graduating from college, Detwiler taught at Bishop Guilfoyle for 2¢ years and Glendale for one year before returning to Altoona. He is now the director of the marching band, concert band, wind ensemble, advanced jazz ensemble, jazz band and pep band, in addition to being the music department chairman for grades K-12.

For Detwiler, his job goes far beyond teaching. He hopes to instill in his students a love of music.

“I hope that when they leave, they value and appreciate and enjoy music,” Detwiler said. “Hopefully it’s something they value enough that they enjoy it and support it for the rest of their lives.”

Life’s lessons

Detwiler is known for teaching his students far more than what the curriculum requires.

“The biggest thing about Mr. Detwiler is how he approaches kids and how he looks at not just teaching them music, but teaching them to do the right thing, teaching them life skills,” AASD Community Relations Director Paula Foreman said.

Many of Detwiler’s students recognize and admire his passion.

“Every time I walked into the band room, he had something new and amazing to teach us,” 2017 Altoona graduate Alissa James said. “I don’t know how he kept up with all of us, but I knew just by the look on his face when he would conduct that his passion and love for music just overtook him. Mr. D has not only touched my heart with music but has also brought countless memories that I’ll cherish forever.”

The district recognizes Detwiler’s students as being some of the best representatives in the community.

“All the kids in the music department have been great ambassadors for us,” Foreman said. “That’s probably the greatest thing Larry has brought to the music department. Those kids represent the Altoona School District with pride.”

Family affair

Sharing a love for music is a quality Detwiler displays throughout his life. His family plays a major role in his career as a music educator, as his wife, Kelly, works alongside him as the junior high and high school orchestra director for the Altoona Area School District and has also served as the majorette and silks adviser for the band.

“We have that really unique situation where we’re both music teachers, both from Altoona, both teaching back in Altoona,” Detwiler said. “Just having her there and having that bond, that’s probably the biggest thing. We can bounce ideas off each other and help each other.”

The opportunity to trace his roots back to Altoona, where his own start to music took place, is incredibly meaningful to Detwiler.

“I feel very fortunate that I had the chance to come back to Altoona,” Detwiler said. “For me, this is where it all started. To be able to come back to Altoona and to have Kelly be able to come back to Altoona and for both of us to have jobs here and have our kids come through the music program that we came through … I loved Altoona growing up, and I still love living in Altoona.”

In addition to sharing his career and passion for music with his family, Detwiler experiences immense pride through the work of his students.

“What makes me the proudest and I think what makes me the happiest is the number of kids that I see go on to college and either participate in music in college or go on to major in music and become music teachers,” he said. “It brings me the most joy that kids leave the program with a love of music that they still want to pursue.”

As a teacher, Detwiler hopes to serve as a good example for his students in all that he does.

“I hope that when they look back on it, I was a good role model for them,” Detwiler said.