José Eslava was 10 years old when he discovered a passion for the flute.
“My family is from Colombia, and they would always play traditional Colombian music and the three instruments that really stuck out to me growing up were flute, trumpet, guitar,” Eslava said.
Eslava recalled when he first tried out for the trumpet, he didn’t quite get it to play.
“When I did the trials for beginning band, I could not get the sound of the trumpet,” he said.
On the other hand, the flute came naturally to him.
Twenty-six years later, Eslava is the band director for his alma mater, Lake Howell High School in Seminole County.
Eslava said, “I just want to make sure that I give back what he gave me, an opportunity to perform and do what I love,” speaking about his high school music teacher and mentor who influenced his career path. “Mr. Todd Leighton. He was always very supportive and anytime I had a goal or a vision, he helped make sure that I succeeded with that goal or vision.”
Eslava’s dedication and leadership is being recognized in the music industry. The 36-year-old was recently named winner of the Manilow Music Project Music Teacher Award, a recognition he received from the music icon himself at Barry Manilow’s concert in Orlando.
“I’ve been envisioning this big surreal adrenaline rush,” he said, “This award is not just about me as a teacher, it’s about the community, it’s about the students. It’s more than just one person, it’s about the whole team.”
Since being named band director in 2014, the high school has brought home numerous awards with ensembles that include marching band, color guard, brass choir, and wind ensemble.
“The program has been very successful recently. In marching band, five of the seven shows that I’ve put together have been state finalists,” he said.
Most importantly, it’s the personal reward he says he cherishes the most.
“Band is so much more than just performing and playing notes on an instrument. It’s life lessons, its dedication, it’s teamwork, leadership, friendships,” he said.
Eslava said he hopes his music students will see the bigger picture and remember him for his encouragement.
“I want them to think that I’m the person they can always count on. That I’m the person that pushed them to their limits to make them more successful in the future,” he said. “No matter what career you’re in, I want you to be the best in that field. I want you take all the hard work you learned here and place it in whatever career you wrote go in.”
As for what the future holds, Eslava proudly said, he isn’t going anywhere else.
“I want to retire here. I want to make this my forever career, my end goal,” he said. “This is home to me, and I would never trade it for the world.”
Eslava received a $5,000 cash reward and another 5,000 “Manilow bucks” to purchase musical instruments, which Lake Howell High School said they’re in need of. SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla.