Braille Monitor               February 2024

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An Interview with Kimble Funchess: Mississippi School for the Blind's Music Educator

by LaShawna Fant

LaShawna FantFrom the Editor: Mr. Funchess has been at the Mississippi School for the Blind for two years. This is LaShawna's way of introducing him to our nation's blind. LaShawna has undertaken this task for several folks. Thanks to her for helping us getting to know one another more than we would without her effort.

LaShawna Fant: Hello, Mr. Funchess. It is a privilege and honor to interview you. Please introduce yourself to the readers of this flagship publication.

Kimble Funchess: My name is Kimble Funchess. I grew up in Crystal Springs, Mississippi. My mother was a custodian for our local school district, and my dad worked for Western Auto. My parents had thirteen children, nine girls and four boys. I am a proud husband and father of four beautiful daughters and also a loyal fan of the New Orleans Saints.

LF: Where did you attend college, and what was your experience overall?

KF: I attended Jackson State University for undergrad and graduate school. My major was Music Education. Later, I attended Mississippi College and earned a Master of Education in School Counseling. My experiences at Jackson State University were life changing. As I got older, I realized the value of the relationships developed while we were students in the band. It continues to amaze me how our band directors had their hands on the pulse of how important being a part of Sonic Boom of the South was for students who grew up in the neighborhoods surrounding our campus, let alone a young aspiring trumpeter from my hometown. Many of my experiences as a band student helped me to grow into a young adult. Being in the band at Jackson State, traveling with the band, and long rehearsals greatly affected my life. The Sonic Boom of the South and the Jackson State University Music Department were truly defining institutions in our lives. They were there to help guide us in the classroom setting and learning that took place outside of the class, which positively affected the whole student's life. The sense of nurturing during that time is the model I use today as an educator. Later, during my graduate studies at Mississippi College, the Counseling/Psychology Department supported my efforts to effectively infuse counseling practices into my daily instruction as a music educator. The professors helped me bridle those ideas and concepts into a fundamentally sound template and further add to it as a long-term plan. My experiences at both of these great institutions were beneficial to my personal and professional life. I have a great relationship with many of my college professors. Several are my mentors and life coaches. They continue to positively affect my growth as an educator and, most importantly, as a person.
LF: That's great! Why did you become a music educator and band/choral director, specifically of blind students?

Kimble FunchessKF: As I matriculated through the Copiah County School District, I quickly developed a love for music. After marching for several years in the Sonic Boom of the South and watching the band directors, I developed a passion for teaching. While in college, I was fortunate to perform with artists such as Johnnie Taylor, The Spinners, and The Fifth Dimension. Those opportunities allowed me to perform with The Temptations, The Four Tops, The O'Jays, The Williams Brothers, Dorothy Moore, Bobby Rush, and many more. After all of those experiences, I knew that the gift I was given to play, write, and perform music was not just for me. I knew that I wanted to share it with the next generation. Each opportunity is an occasion to grow. In my career, it was time for a new form of growth. I knew I had something to offer students who learn differently, and working at Mississippi School for the Blind would stretch my talent and growth as an educator. Additionally, I appreciate the experience of educating the students at Mississippi School for the Blind. Every day, I strive to provide them with experiences and skills to help them as students and throughout their lives.

LF: Mr. Funchess, thanks for sharing your passion for educating the students. What are some of your goals in better equipping the students?

KF: One goal is to continue using the daily practice of infusing life skills into daily instruction. Music is a catalyst for doing that and consists of the tools to create good citizens who are musicians. Learning to play an instrument is a by-product of practicing these skills. As a daily practice, students will be encouraged to value focus differently. We will practice a counting exercise while using breathing for four counts. We will inhale for four counts, hold our breath for four counts, and then exhale for four counts. As it relates to music, the students are experiencing the value of a whole (four counts).

By participating in this activity, the students have to concentrate on that one central exercise point. After repeating this activity three times within a one- to three-minute window, we develop our focus muscle. Let's say we do this activity five days a week for one-to-three minutes daily. We can increase our focus muscle for some time. As we reinforce this activity daily as a tool in music education, it quickly becomes a tool that students can and will take to their core subject areas. It also becomes an effective cross-curricular tool. Once we develop a sense of consistency, the student will learn to manage this tool independently. This is my belief and hope. Lastly, I will continue to aim to employ descriptive language, hands-on learning, community-based opportunities, structure, and accommodations.

LF: Please let the readers know what "Mindfulness Through Music" is and how you utilize it to help individuals.

KF: Mindfulness Through Music (MTM) is a program founded and developed by my wife and me. MTM infuses the arts, mental health nurturing, focusing, paying attention to details, and valuing problem-solving as a daily practice. This helps the young professionals navigate the way to become effective learners and reach their full potential. MTM is available for school programs. We have partnerships in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas. You can find more information about Mindfulness Through Music on Facebook and Instagram. Please Like our page, and follow the work that we are doing.

Here are links to our Mindfulness Through Music pages:

LF: How long have you played the trumpet, and what drives your passion?

KF: I started playing the trumpet in the fifth grade. I saw Mr. Louis Armstrong on television playing the trumpet. After he finished, he did that famous laugh while his arms were opened wide, and the audience erupted in applause. They embraced what he was sharing, and he gave the same love back to them. I told my parents: "Whatever he had, just give me a little bit of that, and I'll be okay." The trumpet quickly became my identification, and I have played it ever since.

LF: You have traveled to many places and have had several opportunities to work alongside famous musical artists. What have been some of these opportunities, and what are some things you learned?

KF: I have been blessed to perform all over the United States and parts of Europe such as Amsterdam. I can literally say that I have performed with a Steel Band in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and even Abu Dhabi. Having the opportunity to record/perform with artists my family grew up listening to has been so valuable to me as I become older. I often reflect on conversations with Johnnie Taylor, The Williams Brothers, Willie Clayton, Dorothy Moore, Lenny Williams, Mavis Staples, Boo Mitchell, Charlie Pride, B. B. King, Mr. Willie Mitchell, Dr. Benjamin Wright Jr, Harrison Calloway Jr, Eddie Cotton, Castro Coleman, Ali-Ollie Woodson, and countless musicians and people that I have learned from through my experiences. I have learned that it is genuinely about establishing rapport, building relationships, sharing experiences, and paying it forward.

LF: Wow! Those were beautiful experiences, and that is such rich information. Regarding your heart and the person you are, what are five words to best describe you?

KF: Determined, purposeful, driven, intentional, and altruistic.

LF: How important is family and community to you?

KF: Family is important to me because it is a foundational pillar. My family is a continuous driving motivator for me. They gently remind me that it is not all about me, and I must be mindful of my decisions. I am conscious that I stand on the shoulders of my parents, siblings, family in general, and many others who have invested in me on my journey. They sacrificed so much. It is my turn to model specific characteristics, behaviors, and other attributes as I make my greatest effort to pay it forward and leave the next generation in the best possible position for life. That is what has been done for me, and it is still being done for me in many cases. This is why it is vital for all of us to be mindful of who is in our season of paying it forward.

LF: What are some of your hobbies and things you like to do for fun?

KF: I enjoy yardwork, in particular weed-eating and trimming, because I like to have a tailored or unique look to our yard. That is relaxing for me. I also enjoy having downtime where I do not plan activities, meet deadlines or tasks, or have to be somewhere. As adults, we have enough of that already. I also enjoy watching Westerns, old movies, and movies with Louis Armstrong in them. I remember when we were younger, we would see the reruns of the Golden Classic movies on Sunday evenings. That was a pastime for my dad and me. He could only stand a few of them for a short period. LOL.

LF: It is certainly good to enjoy life. Who have been some of your mentors?

KF: Truthfully, I have had many mentors; by this, I mean my middle/high school band directors, the music department at Jackson State University while I was a student, and the Counseling/Psychology Department at Mississippi College during my studies there. Also, Mr. Harrison Calloway Jr. and Dr. Benjamin Wright Jr. have been my mentors on this journey in the music business. More importantly, I appreciate how they encouraged me to embrace the artist within and grow as a music educator when investing in me as a trumpeter, horn arranger, and horn section contractor.

LF: What would you want your legacy to be?

KF: I would like for my legacy to be that I could balance life as it happened and be supportive and attentive to my family. I was ever evolving in my career regarding growth to make a valuable difference. Mostly, I made someone's life better, was concerned about making a difference, and was genuinely concerned for all humankind.

LF: Do you have any final words you want to leave with the readers?

KF: My final words to leave with the readers who are determined, driven, or intentional in their efforts to leave the world in a better place than they found it are to:

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