Eric Langreder, who is retiring after 22 years as band director at Miller South School of the Visual and Performing Arts, has been cleaning out his office since last June in preparation for his farewell.

“When you’re here 22 years in one place, you gotta lotta junk,’’ he explained in his typical unassuming fashion just before fifth-grade band class started April 22.

Langreder not only created the band program at Miller South when the school opened, but he also has served as a band director at Akron Public Schools for 35 years. At 7 p.m. Thursday, he will direct one of his last school concerts.

A reception will be held in his honor afterward, where the winner of the inaugural Eric Langreder Music Scholarship will be announced. The school established the $500 scholarship in Langreder’s name to support a student who has gone through the Miller South and Firestone band programs and will pursue music in college.

For most of his tenure, Langreder taught in four different buildings annually, but has been full time at Miller South for the last seven years. He began with Akron Public Schools fresh out of college at age 22, and was previously band director at Garfield High School and Roswell Kent.

Looking back on highlights at Miller South, he pointed to a proclamation from the Ohio House of Representatives hanging in the band room, commending the Jazz Band for performing at the State Office Tower in Columbus in 2013 as part of Ohio Youth Arts Month. He and students were thrilled when Gov. John Kasich stopped to talk to their group for 15 minutes.

Langreder, a clarinetist and jazz fan, started Miller South’s Jazz Band 19 years ago.

“It allows the top players to extend their skills a little bit,” Langreder said of the Jazz Band, which will perform its last Cabaret Night under his direction at 6:30 p.m. May 27, with the Steel Drum Band.

He loves the laid-back concert so much — with its cool club atmosphere, casual dress and nice hors d’oeuvres — he chose to stay until the end of the school year instead of retiring in February, when he was eligible.

“In that concert, we can really stretch our legs,” with the Jazz Band jamming to 10 or 12 tunes and also collaborating with the Steel Drum Band.

Educator of the year

Langreder was named educator of the year by the Miller South PTA board in February and will receive a teacher of the year award from Akron Public Schools next month, but you won’t hear him tooting his own horn.

“Mr. Langreder is one of the nicest, calmest people I know and despite having great musical talent and being able to work with anyone, he would never tell you that,’’ said eighth-grader Jacob Murray, who plays trombone in both the Concert Band and Jazz Band. “He’s definitely the most modest person I know and it’s great for us to see that.”

About 20 percent of the student body at Miller South is in a band. In fifth-grade exploratory class, students learn the recorder. Langreder directs a full fifth-grade band, sixth-grade band and concert band, which is made up of seventh- and eighth-graders. He also teaches a sixth-grade exploratory class that focuses on jazz history and basic improv.

“I get to learn all the kids’ [names] in the building” through the exploratory and band classes, he said.

The educator teaches the whole fifth-grade band its instruments from scratch.

“He’s a great musician. He can pick up anything and play it,” Jacob said. “He transforms all of us from nothing to where we are right now. He just makes everyone feel comfortable and liking what they’re doing and where they’re going.”

Abigail Richardson, an eighth-grade percussionist in the Concert Band and Jazz Band, said she has appreciated Langreder’s fairness and the way he has taught the percussionists to work as a team. She also likes his music choices and his efforts to showcase percussionists.

“When he challenges us, he’s teaching us different techniques so we can master harder music,” she said. “I think he’s the best arts teacher in the school.”

She has enjoyed Jazz Band trips, performing with trombonist Vaughn Wiester and his Famous Jazz Orchestra last June in Clintonville, and has relished the opportunity for Jazz Band musicians to compete at the high school level in the APS Jazz Festival.

“He builds us up,” she said of her teacher.

For the spring concert Thursday, Langreder’s bands will play some “greatest hits,” including fifth-graders playing At the Races, by Stephen Foster and arranged by Langreder’s friend Gene Milford from the University of Akron, and James Swearingen’s The Light of Dawn, which the Concert Band will play.

The piece is the first commission Langreder ever did at Miller South, in 1998. That year, Swearingen, a staff arranger for Ohio State University, spent the day with the bands and guest-conducted his world premiere composition, written specifically for the Miller South Concert Band. Such commissions have been a point of pride for Langreder, who also commissioned Robert Sheldon’s MET­RIX for the Concert Band in 2010.

Listening experience

Langreder recalled Sheldon coming to Miller South to conduct his world premiere piece: “I’m sweating bullets. Did I interpret the music correctly?”

Sheldon gave the students an eye-opener when he said of the new commission, “It’s the first time I’ve heard that. No one’s played it before.”

To students, composers are “old dead guys,” Langreder said. Through school commissions of new works, “the students see that a composer is a living person.”

When Langreder started the Miller South band program, the district provided only about $300 for music. Over the years, he and his local colleagues have relied heavily on sharing.

The band director, 57, has plans to travel with his wife, Cathy, and their friends to England and Scotland. He also plans to perform on clarinet more with area bands.

Following in his footsteps at Miller South will be Marissa Hirsch, a former student of Langreder at Miller South, a Firestone High School and recent University of Akron graduate. She currently teaches at Hyre CLC.

Langreder said he won’t miss paperwork and meetings but he’ll miss the students at Miller South: “I will miss standing in front of Concert Band probably the most because that’s the core program.”

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com.