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, www.teachingmusic.org/jazz.cfm, 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 aspenbands.org or follow them on Instagram (@aspenbands) and Facebook (@ASDBands)