Every teacher seeks to make a lasting impression on his or her students, and Chesapeake High School music teacher Michael Brisentine has certainly succeeded. The educator and choir conductor has mentored students in the theater program, show choir and the school’s a cappella group, Evolve.
“Evolve’s really grown in recent years,” Brisentine commented. “We’ve been doing a lot of performances and, just this year, we went to the finals of the International Championship for High School A Cappella Finals and took fourth place!”
While Brisentine has made his mark on Chesapeake High, all good things must come to an end. Brisentine has left the school to pursue his master’s degree in choral conducting. “It was a difficult decision, and I’ll definitely miss all of my students, but I’m also excited to be able to learn more about music and teaching,” he said.
During Brisentine’s time at Chesapeake High School, he brought the music program to the Anne Arundel community in many ways. “The music groups did a lot of performances and concerts,” Brisentine recalled. “We performed for the Board of Education, for fundraisers and even for a local nursing home.”
Evolve released a CD with funding from families and friends of students, and the group even went abroad for a performance. “We went to Canada. It was the first choir trip that wasn’t competition-based,” Brisentine explained. “We went to experience another country and make music. We also ended up driving out to a small village near Quebec where we performed our entire repertoire, and everyone was incredibly excited. It was a good reminder that music doesn’t have to compete or win awards to be valuable to others.”
Brisentine hadn’t always known that music was his calling. In sophomore year of high school at Chesapeake High, he became inspired by his music teacher and mentor, Karen Simmons. “She’s a master educator,” he said. “It was such an opportunity to talk to and learn from her. I definitely wouldn’t have had the amount of success I have without her.”
Since taking over the music program from Simmons in 2015, Brisentine has done everything he could to become a mentor for current students. “All the kids I teach are amazing,” he commented. “They’re really the only reason I had a hard time leaving. I’ve made such special connections to them.”
The feeling is mutual. Jenna Woodward came to Chesapeake High School from Archbishop Spalding as a sophomore. She said “school was never my thing” until coming to Chesapeake, and she previously had “very little school pride” even though she was involved in other clubs and events.
“When I walked into his room, I always felt at home; I knew these were my people,” Woodward said. “We were all so different in our own way, and he accepted each one of us as we were and enforced others learning to accept us too. His morals and values were passed on to the students in his classes, and then at that point, he wasn’t teaching us music, he was teaching us life: how to step out of your comfort zone and be friends with different people, try new experiences, which last way longer in the real world than the periodic table and quadratic formula ever will. I didn’t know him long, but within his room, I found my best friend, my girlfriend and a family. My biggest regret was not finding it sooner.”
Brisentine’s positive outlook was also passed on to Taylor Saffran, who was a freshman last year.
“He always taught me to keep pushing and retrying until you get it right and to not ever give up,” she said. “He taught me to constantly be nice to others and he made me want to be there for other people when they were down and to help him. I was going through a rough time in my life when I was in his class, and even when I forgot how to smile, he never failed to make me laugh or smile; it was never a bad time with him.”
Recent graduate Dillon Redwine had Brisentine for three semesters and multiple classes ranging from Piano to Evolve. Brisentine taught Redwine to “cherish and celebrate the good” instead of focusing on the bad.
“He made so many people happy and saved so many of my closest friends from the lowest points of their lives and I can’t thank him enough for that,” Redwine said. “Nobody in choir will ever forget him, and we are all so excited and proud that he is moving on up in the world and going back to college.”
In addition to the choir and a cappella groups, Brisentine also made a great impact within the theater department. The school produced “The Addams Family” for its fall musical, with Brisentine in the director’s chair. “It’s a really difficult show, but all of our performers did a spectacular job,” he said. “It’s unique in that a lot of the ensemble and main chorus songs are more difficult that the songs sung by the main characters.”
Upon completion of his master’s, Brisentine plans to return to teaching high school before seeking a doctorate. “They really encourage you to gain as much experience in the field as possible before going any further,” he explained, “so that you can really improve as both a conductor and a teacher.”