Jose Ledesma is not a morning person. When he was a student at Fresno State, he was always late to his 8 a.m. classes. But having his dream job has turned that around. As the Director of Instrumental Music at Firebaugh High School, Ledesma said he begins his 50-minute commute at 6:30 a.m., and he is never late.
“It’s incredible. I absolutely love everything that I do.”
In his job, Ledesma does a little bit of everything. He directs the jazz band, two concert bands, symphonic band, the wind ensemble and teaches the music theory class. Once the pandemic is over, he will also direct the marching band. Ledesma finds the challenging position infinitely rewarding, even though his first year has been during the COVID-19 lockdown.
“The amount of the support from the community, and the administration, and my co-workers is phenomenal. I could not have asked for a transition into a first position during a pandemic,” Ledesma said.
The son of Mexican immigrants, Ledesma grew up in Easton, a small town south of Fresno, and attended Washington Union High School. He graduated from Fresno State in the Fall of 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in music education, instrumental option. He went on to get his teaching credential from the Kremen School of Education in Spring 2020.
Ledesma said he had a rough start at Fresno State. He enrolled as a freshman in 2012 and was enrolled for a year until a personal tragedy caused him to withdraw. After taking a few years off, he returned in 2016 with a renewed focus on his academics.
With a passion for music, and specifically percussion, Ledesma found a community with other percussion students. When reflecting on his time at Fresno State, he said it was his time in the percussion studio that stood out to him most.
“Just hanging out in the studio and playing music. Just having that space for us, building that companionship with everyone else in the studio,” Ledesma said.
It was a place of belonging that spawned creative ideas to learn and grow as musicians and humans. It’s that human connection to music that Ledesma says informs his teaching today. While he says Fresno State taught him to teach ensembles, rhythm, intonation and literature, he also learned to look beyond these fundamentals and see the humanity within music and his students.
As an example, he reflected on a recent quiz he gave to his students where he asked the question, “What are you most looking forward to in band after this pandemic is over?” His students replied with answers such as, “I can’t wait to go back to the one place I feel comfortable,” and “I can not wait to go back to the family that loves me more than I can ever love them.” He said the statements reinforced for him the importance of the human connection to music in education.
“The biggest thing that Fresno State did teach me was how to look at the humanity of music, how to teach the humanity of music, and how to see the humanity in my students to help guide my instruction.”
In a field where there is stiff competition to be the best, Ledesma said he had to learn to step away from his instrument from time to time to come to terms with the realization that he is not always the best and may not always be the best. He learned that sometimes to thrive, it is sometimes best to take a step back, breathe, enjoy the present moment and just listen.
“Listen to the silence. I think that’s where a lot of the growth will happen.”