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A choral director jazzes it up

You might say that Dan Gregerman is the voice behind Niles North High School in Skokie, Ill. The school’s longtime choral director also is the founder and director of the Niles North vocal jazz program and directs the school’s eight choirs. He’s the announcer for the boys’ basketball and football teams as well as for schoolwide assemblies and pep rallies. In addition to teaching digital piano and electronic music classes, Gregerman is responsible for most of the audio equipment at the school. “I do a few things,” he says good-naturedly.

What he enjoys doing most is teaching. “I love that I can educate students—the future of America—by teaching them, through music, about real-life values and how to succeed,” he says. Leadership, cooperation and respect are among the lessons he teaches. Gregerman notes that teamwork is crucial to an ensemble’s success, as is a belief in oneself. “Sometimes getting a kid to feel confident in choir to sing their part is no different than what they’ll have to do one day when they get up in front of a board of directors or committee to make a presentation. In the same light, some of these kids will go into the arts and will need to have the confidence to go in front of an audience.”

Dan Gregerman

Dan Gregerman with two of his students at Niles North High School.

For more than 20 years, Gregerman has used music to inspire confidence in all his students. A founding board member of the Jazz Education Network, an international organization for jazz education, he has shared with his students his love of that genre. Three vocal jazz groups that meet twice a week in the evenings encompass the vocal jazz program. Students must audition for the groups, which have their own student band and student sound crew.

In May, he organized a Memorial Day reunion concert in which students in his current choirs and alumni sang a finale that made Gregerman especially proud. “I had people there from every single year since 1991 representing every single graduation class,” he says. “It was really cool to see 20 years worth of history and success.”

From an early age, Gregerman knew he would pursue a career in education. A summer music camp he attended as a teenager convinced him that teaching music was the profession for him. And while he has enjoyed several opportunities to sing professionally, he never found them quite as fulfilling as teaching. “There’s just something about making a difference in young people’s lives that inspires me.”

Logan Farris says that Gregerman inspired him to become a music teacher. A 2001 graduate of Niles North, Farris teaches at Oak Grove School in Green Oaks, Ill. He also directs one of Gregerman’s vocal jazz choirs at Niles North. Gregerman “expects a lot from his students” and himself, Farris says of his former teacher who always arrives at school by 7 a.m. and stays until 9 p.m. to work with students or meet with parents.         

Gregerman “gives tons of time and energy,” says Mary Jo Papich, Niles North’s fine arts director. His “passion shines through for what he loves to do and that is make music.”