James Murdza was inducted into the HCPS Educator Hall of Fame as its 173rd member during last week's Harford Board of Education meeting.
In 1959, he began his 30-year career teaching at Jarrettsville, Slate Ridge and Highland Elementary Schools. In 1963, Murdza transferred to Edgewood High School where he taught music until his retirement in 1989.
During his 30 years with the county, Murdza contributed to the start of many programs such as the jazz program, which later was added as a credited course throughout Harford County Public Schools. He also played an instrumental part in expanding the HCPS music program to include piano lab, music theory, and jazz improvisation.
Murdza then founded the Edgewood High School Chesapeake Jazz Festival where he and his students were recognized as one of the best high school bands in the country.
In 1990, Murdza came out of retirement for one year to help the Fallston High School band director who became terminally ill. With the passing of Fallston’s band director, Murdza continued to teach his students and led them in their performances for the remainder of the school year.
A scholarship was created in Murdza’s name for a senior who is continuing music education in college.
Patch was able to catch up with him before Monday’s meeting, and here's what he said about being honored:
PATCH: What does being inducted into the Hall of Fame mean to you?
Murdza: I was flabbergasted. I was humbled. I was overwhelmed.
PATCH: What advice would you give educators just starting out?
Murdza: Do your homework. Come to school on time ... and when you come home you've got to do all the other stuff you didn’t finish at school.
PATCH: During your 30 years with Harford County Public Schools, what changed the most in the music program?
Murdza: Let me say this, when I first started in 1959, I did what I really enjoyed doing 100 percent of the time and that was teaching music. As it progressed, I got less and less time to do that and more and more time to do paperwork—that kind of stuff. I had fun teaching for 29 years only worked for one and that was my last year.
PATCH: Have you heard from any of the students you taught during your 30 years?
Murdza: Yes, all of them. Actually, a lot of them. Two of them have become very close friends, Bill Reiber and Rob Brusch. When I first went to Edgewood, Reiber was in tenth grade and Brusch was in ninth grade and they come over every Wednesday.
PATCH: What was your biggest accomplishment during your career with Harford County Public Schools?
Murdza: That I survived 30 years.
PATCH: Out of all the positions you had with Harford County, was there a position you favored the most?
Murdza: I’m going to say this, the first year that I taught at Slate Ridge Elementary—vocal and instrumental. I had a bunch of first graders, 60 of them. I was teaching them “BINGO”—now they’re very honest and they hadn’t learned to lie yet. Once they knew the “BINGO” song, they switched from singing to yelling because they knew it. They were singing it and singing and singing it and all of sudden the right side left, then the left side left and there was one little boy in the middle and they pointed at him and said, “He pooped, he pooped!” So, I did what I was suppose to do and sent him down to the principal, Joe Deschak, and principal can fix everything and I’m sure he did! I will never forget that. That was my first vocal class.
PATCH: What was your most memorable trip with your students?
Murdza: I don’t know. I think we did some other things too. We did some exchange concerts with the band from Canada and when the kids went there they had a different system up there. We they went to McDonald’s, the exchange rate was different two. The kids gave them (cashier) 10 bucks for whatever they got and then they got $10.20 back in change, but that was in Canadian money. They thought they were making money.
PATCH: Out of all the music that your students performed, what was your favorite?
Murdza: I don’t know if I have a favorite. I would have to say Overture in B Flat by Giovannini.