Cobblers Up Close: Andrew Belsaas

While unmistakably unique, Mr. Andrew Belsaas is the band teacher often mistaken for a student. Senior Adam Taylor sat down with him and discussed what it’s like teaching at Rapid City Central.

By Adam Taylor

“My Oreo just rolled away,” Andrew Belsaas laughs shamefully. We have just sat down for an interview but the snack he was about to indulge in has escaped him. He proceeds to refill one of several homemade ceramic tea mugs. Every surface of his office is cluttered with pottery. There is a warm comfort, even though the room is strewn with crafts and food. He expresses his own personality and thoughts through this room; he has no problem with making himself at home. With the ceiling tiles, the space is about ten feet tall, but, on a whim, Belsaas removed half of them, adding what feels like two more stories.

Mr. Belsaas’s desk conveys a sense of his unique style.

Andrew is the youngest of three. His mom is a radiologist—she reads cat scans, mammograms, and x-rays—and his dad is a retired property manager who now trades stocks. “My dad spends her money,” he chuckles. “My parents have always been very supportive, but I’m the only musical person in my family.” He and both of his siblings were urged to start piano in elementary school. At that time, he was not happy to be forced on an instrument, “but I really enjoyed it and it stuck with me. I’m on my 20th year.” He started learning percussion in fourth grade, after seeing the movie School of Rock. He wanted to be just like the drummer from that movie. On that note, he still is a disaster on a drum set, but, fortunately, a colorful miracle on the piano and mallets.

When he was in high school here at Central, Andrew Belsaas made 10 all-states, including three in band, two in orchestra, one in choir, and four years of all-state jazz. He received his Bachelor of Music in Music Education in 2012 from St. Olaf College. St. Olaf is a musically renowned and academically rigorous school of about 3,000. “Northfield is a really nice town. There were plenty of bakeries and the city was only 40 minutes away. That’s all I needed.”

“I care more that students end up as well-rounded people than well-rounded musicians.”

Belsaas came back to Central High School because of a job opening. Coming back to Rapid City, many had a preconceived idea of who he was. “I don’t think people realize how much a person can change during the four years of college. I needed to come in and establish who I was and who I was going to project myself to be. As a new teacher, it’s hard to transition. There’s a lot of skepticism and resistance to change.” Students quickly warmed up to Belsaas. The fact that he is personal and open to everyone gives students freedom to relate. “I consider myself a teacher of humanities with music as my medium.” He pauses before continuing, “I care more that students end up as well-rounded people than well-rounded musicians.”

Andrew takes advantage of his summers—he takes the three months off work and occupies himself with hobbies and travel. “I love making ceramics because, unlike music, it’s a permanent art.” He likes to make pottery for students as gifts. He is a video gamer, though he admits that during the school year he has little time to play video games. “I love the camaraderie of anonymous people. The fact that four strangers can get together and work towards a common goal is really great.” A couple summers ago he went on an extensive road trip visiting college friends. “My friend was getting married in Boston, so I made a trip out of it.” I asked him about some other characteristics I’m missing. “I’m vegan, mostly for environmental concerns. I was raised non-religious—I think by declaring yourself with one religion, it’s important that you’re not discrediting other religions.” He smiled and added, “I hope to be reincarnated when I die.”

belsaas with mug
Belsaas’s personal approach has allowed students to warm up to him quickly.

I asked Andrew about his expectations for the job versus the reality it’s been. “Education is a lot more work than I thought. There’s lots of administrative and state requirements. Students and the community aren’t aware of how much work teachers do.” Despite all these responsibilities, he carries with him his own style of teaching—this is crucial to developing a format that everyone enjoys. Andrew’s ideas don’t get stuck as abstractions—he quickly puts them to use in his teaching. Students are grateful for his mentorship as a friend and an educator, setting the bar high for students’ aspirations. “I think it’s a lot better than I expected it to be, too.”