Central band director plays Lollapalooza, Madison Square Garden


Photo courtesy of Brandon Estes

Central band teacher Brandon Estes has performed at Lollapalooza, played Madison Square Garden, and is part of the Chicago Bears’ drumline.

Claire Yung, Features editor

Brandon Estes, associate director of bands at Naperville Central, is not just a band teacher. He’s been in the drum line for the Chicago Bears and Bulls, traveled to London and Hong Kong to perform and recently played with EDM artist Kygo at Lollapalooza and Madison Square Garden. 

“If you would have asked me 20 years ago, ‘do you know that you’re going to be doing all these performances?’” Estes said. “I’d be like, seriously? I don’t really think so.”

Estes attributes his performance opportunities to his teaching experience and vice versa. This will be his 17th year in education, and he has worked with high school marching band programs since 1999. 

In 1998, he started participating in high level marching bands, otherwise known as drum and bugle corps, first with the Pioneers of Milwaukee for three years and then played in the Madison Scouts of Madison, Wisconsin for the next two.  He then was a caption head and later a co-arranger of the Blue Stars of Wisconsin. After that, he spent a couple years teaching drum corps on and off.

“All of this led to my current opportunities,” Estes said. “Nothing happens just because. It’s based on your background and the things leading to it.” 

When the Chicago Bulls started their drumline in 2007, Estes took the opportunity to audition and was accepted. He stayed with them for six seasons. The year after, he also started drumming with the Chicago Bears drumline, becoming its director in 2011. This will be his 15th season with them.

“During [Kygo]’s tour, they added a local drumline to this track that’s called ‘Freeze’, and so basically we were hired as local talent, ” Estes said. “After our performance at Lollapalooza, we got called back because they liked what we did. They worked it out so that we could go perform with Kygo again at Madison Square Garden this past October. We sold out.”

Estes’ performances have led to a lot of firsts for him. During a trip to London with the Bears, he performed at landmark locations and met the team’s owner, Virginia McCaskey, in the Tower of London. He also traveled to Hong Kong to play concert percussion with the Hong Kong Symphony for a week.

“All of my experiences are different but very memorable,” Estes said. “I’m honored to have had these opportunities.”

Music has always been a part of his life. 

“I’ve always been involved in music somehow since I was an itty bitty kid,” Estes said. “My family played music and I was always told that I was one of those kids that would go underneath the covers and pull out pots and pans and just start banging. I guess it just stuck. I’ve been literally banging on drums my whole life.”

Part of what encouraged Estes to become a music educator were his own teachers when he was younger.

“They saw something in me and pushed me to strive for greatness in whatever I did,” Estes said. “If it weren’t for the educators in my life that pushed me, I don’t know that I would be doing what I’m doing.”

One particular moment happened when he was growing up in Texas during the ‘90s. Percussionists don’t typically have easy access to all their instruments like timpani and mallet keyboards, but his band director at the time went above and beyond to help him. 

“Over the winter holidays, my band director would pick me up, drive me to school, and he would sit in his office to do some work,”  Estes said. “He’d allow me to practice in the band room for a couple hours so that I could prepare for the Texas Music Educators Association auditions. That was very special to me, he didn’t have to do that. He was taking time away from his vacations because he wanted me to be successful.”

Estes decided to do his five years of music education to get a certificate. Afterwards, he came to Illinois and did his master in music performance at Northern Illinois University.

“While I was still working on my degrees, I was in the trenches of teaching kids,” Estes said. “I worked with high school programs, teaching percussion, teaching private lessons, and so on. By the time I was done with my undergraduate and graduate programs, I just wanted to teach because it allows me to pass on all the knowledge and experiences that I’ve gained.”

According to co-band director DJ Alstadt, Estes’ background in both education and performance has allowed him to bring those unique experiences into the classroom and serve as a role model. 

“He’s the total musician,” Alstadt said. “He can feel as comfortable on a concert marimba playing the most advanced repertoire out there, as jumping on a jazz drum set, and then walking over and jumping on a steel pan drum and playing music from Africa. He brings a very incredibly varied and intensive background. I think he’s a great role model for kids. He empowers them to lead and guides them.”

A lesson Estes tries to share with his students is the value of music and hard work.

“Shoot for the stars, and regardless of what you do in life, music can always be a part of your world somehow,” Estes said. “I don’t think anything happens by accident. You get out what you put into things, and I feel like I’ve worked really hard for everything that I’ve been blessed to achieve. I hope that my students see that and will understand that hard work does pay off.”

However, Estes’ number one goal lies outside of his musical skills.

“I try to stay humble because at the end of the day, I’m just a dad and a guy that teaches band, and I happen to play the drums.”