Dena Zocher writes about interesting people, places, things.

Give up the funk

Music educator, funk band leader, serial entrepreneur keeps it 100

Semi-retired after nearly 50 years as a public school music educator, Rod Buckner revels in “not retirement” – as a retired-substitute music teacher, band leader, and massage therapist.

Buckner’s life arc follows parallels with other African-American musicians of his generation.
In the 1950s, Buckner’s family was one of the first African-American families in his city to cross the “Red Line” and move to an all-white neighborhood. Entering college in the 1960s, he was the only African-American student in the university music school. He earned a Bachelor of Music Education, at that time becoming the music school’s first black graduate.

While Buckner’s college years encompassed a time of societal transformation, spanning the politically charged civil rights a and anti-war eras, he remained hyper focused on his music. He studied trumpet and low brass, and participated in initiating the jazz music program at his university. Buckner went on to earn graduate degrees in creative arts, music education curriculum, and education administration.

Today, Buckner remains at the forefront of the fight to keep music education in public schools. His ongoing relationships with his former students speak to the power of music and music education. “Some of them came out of the gangs,” he says, “and they are now successful, productive individuals.”

Tear the roof off

For fun, says Buckner, “I work.” Buckner practices hours every week and manages his seven-piece jazz-funk band, Buckner Funken. Planning rehearsals, booking gigs and running the business end of things is challenging. “When you’re in the music business, you have to stay on top of it. You’ve got to run your business like a business.”

Buckner is in high demand as a substitute music teacher in his former district. “I love teaching and working with kids. I know all the kids. They need discipline, they need boundaries.”

But wait, that’s not all. “I’m a massage therapist. I came to it through being a cosmetologist.”

“I wanted to play like Miles Davis. I blew to the point where all my hair was falling out from stress-caused alopecia areata. So, I went to cosmetology school to learn how to fix that. After I mastered the curriculum, I decided to go to massage school and learn about how to heal and treat the whole body.”

A real type of thing

For Buckner, slowing down is not an option. “The word that comes to mind is vibrant. I vibrate. I’m always vibrating.”

He remains fully committed to bringing music education to young people, instilling passion and regard for music and creativity.

“Music creates community. Students who study music score higher on tests. Music helps kids be better kids. That’s why I’m never going to leave teaching in the public schools, even though I’ve been retired [from the school district] for over 20 years.”

His advice to the recently retired, or those beginning to consider it? “They keep bringing us veterans back to help these young teachers. Don’t sit around if you can help it.”