After 38 years of teaching music and 22 years with the Libby Public Schools, Brenda Nagode still loves her job, but feels it is time to focus on family and finding out what her passions are outside of music.
“If I didn’t have connections to family, I’d just keep going,” she said. “I just love it.”
But, her husband, Ty Nagode, has been retired for nine years, she said. “His retirement is going by, and it’s not our retirement.”
Nagode said she hadn’t made specific plans for retirement, but that she wants to take time to connect more with her family, and even with herself.
“At some point I have to sort of find out about me, and not just my job,” she said.
While she has loved all of her time teaching, the job is very demanding, and many things get put on hold, she said. “I don’t even know what else I’m interested in, other than music, and maybe it’s waiting there for me to figure out.”
She would like to travel, to visit even some cities around Montana that she has been to but never explored, Nagode said.
“We always stay at a Super 8, and then we see the music venue, and we go home,” she said. She wants to visit family outside of the state in a season other than summer, and has a dream trip to see a rainforest.
“That’s my bucket list,” she said. “It’s pretty small right now.”
Teaching music hasn’t given her much time to explore her own musical interests, Nagode said. She expects to start practicing again, revisiting the instrument she started with, the saxophone.
“Just playin’ my horn,” she said. “I haven’t had time to practice and get better on it other than just playing with kids.”
Nagode has spent most of her teaching career in Troy and Libby, but started in Oklahoma, where she taught in a consolidated school program for three years.
But she first started teaching in college. As a music major, once a month she would pack up her instruments and go to a different school around Oklahoma City to give private lessons.
“I just loved helping kids learn to enjoy playing,” she said.
She was a double major, and planned to become a forensic toxicologist like her dad.
But in her junior year, she found herself at a crossroads. To continue in her intended career path, her class schedule would conflict with her playing with the orchestra. That led to some soul searching, she said.
“If somebody said, ‘Figure out, what could you live without,’ I’d go, ‘Oh, I couldn’t’ live without teaching,” she said.
In addition to the students, Nagode said she has enjoyed the school system and the people she has worked with.
That includes the leadership from school administrators.
“The interest in making sure that Libby is caught up with what’s going on with technology, with discipline, with motivation, with building, with best practices — the science of teaching — that’s always impressed me,” she said.
She also has enjoyed the support of the other teachers and school staff, she said. Yet, the one she has worked most closely with is Choir Director Lorraine Braun.
The two music teachers agreed that they have different types of personalities, but have shared a common love for teaching and music.
In 1982, Nagode moved to the area and began teaching in Troy. Then, in 1995, she took the job as choir director at Libby.
About 2005, she took over as band director, and was the sole music teacher for about two years.
“That about killed me,” she said.
When Braun took over the choir around 2007, the two quickly became friends.
“It was great,” Braun said. “We have such a great working relationship.”
In some schools, the choir and band directors don’t get along, she said. That was never a problem for the two of them.
In her previous job in Idaho, Braun was the only music teacher, and both were happy to have a colleague to work with.
Music is a lot of work, and can keep a teacher busy with all the trips and extracurricular work, but that also depends on how involved the teacher is, Braun said. As someone who wanted to “go beyond,” having someone such as Nagode who did as well has made for a positive experience for them both.
“I’m going to miss her, I’ll tell you that,” Braun said. “You’ve got to have the energy and you’ve got to have the love of what you’re doing to really help the kids.”
But, with Nagode staying as an aid into the beginning of the next school year, both she and Braun said they expect to establish a kind of easy continuity, not so much passing a mantle as bridging from one dedicated educator to the next.
Nagode said she looks forward to still experiencing the music students make, just from a seat now, listening to something someone else has put together.
Still, she said she’ll miss the excitement and unpredictability of concerts, even recovering from mistakes that happen. “It’s live action. It’s like driving, that you never know when a deer’s going to jump up, and how do you avoid that collision.”
“I’ll miss that excitement. Conducting is a lot of fun,” she said.
A Troy resident, Nagode said she hasn’t heard Troy’s band in years, and looks forward to that as well.
Though she doesn’t think she can anticipate how much she’ll miss working with the students, she knows she’ll miss it, she said.
Beginning band may be the most exciting part, she said.
“When they have never played before, and they’re so interested, and seeing them make those huge successes day-to-day, and they just get hooked,” she said.
In a school system the size of Libby, she said, a music teacher gets to watch students grow in their music and in their life, from childhood to being a young adult. It’s exciting to watch, she said.
“With music they know that there’s really no limitations,” she said. “You never get done. You never ‘win’. It’s you against the music, and there’s just so many layers of it.”
Though she has never played a video game other than Mario, Nagode said she thinks there may be a similar appeal for students in music, as they go from one level to the next, always with a new accomplishment to pursue.
“They get hooked on that,” she said. “I think, for a lot of kids, it’s the process more than the concerts.”
Nagode described the seeing the impact music even has on the everyday lives of children. She noted research that has shown the potential for music to help heal damaged or stressed brains.
Sometimes, it’s not obvious right away the impact it has, she said, even with the youngest students.
“And then right out of the blue, they’re lining up at the door, and the rascalliest rascal will come up and just through their arms around your legs — ‘cause they only reach up to your knees — and just go, ‘I like music today! It made me feel good.’”
Nagode hasn’t ruled out remaining a participant in music around the community or helping with things such as the Flathead Lake Music Camp as she has in the past, but said she doesn’t have specific plans. A lot of things are still a “wait and see” as she figures out retirement.
“I don’t know what retirement is,” she said. “It’s like a mythological story or something.”
She doesn’t know if she will want to commit to a set schedule during the summer, or if she will want to have the time available to take a trip, see family or have an adventure.
“I hope to have adventures,” she said.
“And, it might be time for somebody younger to come and take over and have as much fun and connection with those kids at camp,” she said. “There are a lot of really great young teachers in the state that could step up.
Looking back, Nagode said that she has had “the best job in the world.”
“You make your career of teaching kids how to play, and you get to play every day,” she said.
An outsider, might hear a cacophony of sound when the band is practicing, and wouldn’t want to deal with it, she said. “But I’m listening through and I’m hearing, ‘Yeah, that’s right. That’s good.’”
“It’s been a pretty amazing run. I didn’t know it would be this much fun,” she said. “It’s a lot of work at the beginning, but it’s fun every single day.”