Why Music Matters: A convesation with music educator Steve Heldt

Why Music Matters: A conversation with music educator Steve Heldt

Steve Heldt, affectionately known to his students as Mr. H, joined the Aspen School District as Instrumental Music teacher in 2012. Since then, the music program has flourished--and Heldt has distinguished himself as one of the busiest and most visionary teachers in the district. Along with his colleague Kyle Jones, Heldt directs music education for grades 5-12, a job that involves presiding over various jazz bands, a jazz combo, the Double Black Diamond Band (an advanced wind ensemble), a rock band, as well as the IB music program at Aspen High School. Just over 200 kids from AMS and AHS participate, including one dedicated student who drives over from Aspen Community School.

Heldt works long days during the school year. He can be found at AMS at 6am coaching the jazz ensemble, and he is often still there well into the night conducting rehearsals for the Double Black Diamond Band. His students compete and perform throughout Colorado, travel to gigs at the Disney theme parks in Orlando, and just returned from an engagement in Los Angeles.

Band life at school is rigorous, intellectually engaging, and, according to Heldt’s enthusiastic students, a whole lot of fun. The program is open to all students who wish to play an instrument. For the last few years, AEF has helped provide salary and equipment support to the band program.

AEF recently asked Heldt a few questions about music in the Aspen schools and his plans for the future.

Why is music education an important part of a student’s life?

Music is going to be a part of everyone’s life, whether they get a music education or not—so why ignore something so central to the human experience? Through the study of music, students develop practical skills, of course, but they also develop intangible skills, such as grit, self-discipline, teamwork, sensitivity, the ability to give constructive criticism, the capacity to gracefully receive criticism, and the ability to set and achieve long-term goals. Some may say that these same skills are learned on the sports field, but don’t forget that while all this is happening, students are also strengthening their literacy and numeracy skills, creating art, engaging in nonverbal coordinated simultaneous group communication, and learning about their culture. The list goes on!

Does a student need to have an identifiable musical talent to participate in your program?

Does a student need to have an identifiable mathematical talent to participate in a math class? Of course not. And the reason is the same. Music is for everyone.

What aspect of the music program are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the "band family" that has developed over the years. The students are so tightly knit, so supportive of one another. Watching them and seeing the young adults they are becoming fills me with more pride than any performance ever could. I strongly believe that I do not teach music to people, but instead teach people through music. The difference is important.

You’ve had an interesting career as a professional musician. We’ve heard you’ve played trumpet professionally since your early teens. Why do you choose to teach?

I love watching kids grow. I love to help kids discover new abilities and skills. I love empowering young people to realize their potential. At the risk of sounding trite, the saying goes that if you love something, give it away. I, therefore, give music.

What’s your big vision for the music program in the Aspen School District?

I want the schools to be a reflection of the community. In Aspen, a community that so deeply values the performing arts at their highest levels, schools should have performing arts programming of the same quality and rigor as their professional counterparts. I would love to see music treated as the core subject it is. I always wondered what it would look like if schools treated music as if it were going to be tested on the ACT/SAT.




The Aspen School District Band Program is honored to welcome esteemed jazz educator Ronald Carter as a guest educator from May 29 – June 1. Professor Carter will lead a concert with the AMS Jazz Band on Thursday, June 1 at 6 p.m. at the District Theatre in the Aspen Elementary School. The event is free and open to the public.  

Professor Carter, who literally wrote the book on education,, has dedicated much of his career to teaching jazz. His residency at the Aspen Middle School is at the invitation of Steve Heldt,  and has been funded in part by Thrift Shop of Aspen. 


  • 5th grade band (2 sections)
  • 6th grade band
  • 7th & 8th grade band
  • The Double Black Diamond Band (advanced wind ensemble)
  • AHS Band (Rock Band)
  • Jazz Combo (AHS)
  • Jazz Band (AMS)
  • Beginning Jazz (AMS)
  • IB Music

For more information about the Aspen School District Bands go to or follow them on Instagram (@aspenbands) and Facebook (@ASDBands)


The Lichtenwalter's dreams for The Aspen Promise

For longtime Aspen residents Daylene and Gary Lichtenwalter, contributing to The Aspen Promise reflects their lifelong commitment to education--and their desire to give back to the community they love.  

“We love the school system and really value the teachers’ support throughout the years,” said Daylene.

Daylene and Gary both recall a conversation they had one evening that seemed to crystallize their vision to do something special for the Aspen School District. “We decided we wanted to give to the children of this community and assist students on their path to college,” explained Daylene. The couple reached out to AEF to discuss the possibility of creating scholarships for AHS graduates, and The Aspen Promise scholarships began to take shape.

Daylene and Gary both value the role that education has played in their own lives. Daylene, who graduated from Maryville College in St. Louis, noted that her parents scrimped and saved so that she and her siblings had the opportunity to attend college.

A graduate of Joliet Township High School and Joliet Junior College, Gary found inspiration as a student from a quote by the Greek philosopher Diogenes, which was emblazoned on a wall in his school: “The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.” Gary also graduated from the University of Illinois, where he was a scholarship recipient. That experience became the basis for his decision to establish a family foundation that would create scholarship opportunities for students.

Daylene and Gary have created four The Aspen Promise scholarships in their sons’ names, (in addition to one in their names) with the hope that their sons continue the family tradition of education and philanthropy as they grow older. Both acknowledge that The Aspen Promise scholarships will be game changers for the students who receive them.

“If we don’t educate kids for the future, what future is there?” asked Gary. “I do hope that The Aspen Promise scholarship recipients know that people are caring for them and rooting for them to finish their education. We hope and dream that these kids persevere because these opportunities will give them a step up in the world.”

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