Q&A: Mitch Evett finds a home in Rio’s nationally acclaimed music program

Music teacher creates bonds with students while helping to lead award-winning program


Mitch Evett conducts the PM jazz band in the performing arts center at Rio Americano High School in Sacramento, Calif.

Anna Wilson, Guest Writer

Music teacher Mitch Evett

Born and raised in Illinois Mitch Evett is has found a home at Rio Americano’s famous band program. Growing up as a self-proclaimed nerd, he found comfort and good friends in music. Involved in the music scene from a young age, he sang in church, and school, and played trombone and tuba in community bands. After high school, Evett moved to Minnesota to study Instrumental Music Education from St. Olaf College. After he got his bachelor’s degree, he stayed in Minnesota and taught for five years to a middle and high school band. Following his now wife’s job to Sacramento, he moved his life here and with perfect timing found an open music teaching job at Rio. 


How did you become interested in music?

Very early on I was sort of labeled and identified as a nerd. I found music to be a place where I was accepted for my weirdness and where I could feel like I was a part of something bigger. I just loved music really early on and all my best friends were in music with me so it kind of became something I was really into. I had some awesome band teachers who kept me motivated and interested in music.

How have your teachers influenced you? 

Being a good teacher is being a pirate – we just steal things that work. That really is the key to being a good teacher, is learning from other people and incorporating what they do into your style and way of teaching. My private trombone teacher was very impactful on me. She saw my potential and knew I could achieve higher so she really pushed me. 

Why did you leave Minnesota for Sacramento?

“Love, love is the answer. I started dating my now wife in college, we broke up after a bit because we were both young and stupid. And then we actually got back together again after graduating. We stayed there (in Minnesota) while she went to med school and she applied for residency. She matched in Sacramento so, it was like, yeah, we are moving to Sacramento.”

How was the process of getting this job?

Apparently, Mr. (Josh) Murray (the other band teacher at Rio) said I stood out because the lights in these rooms are motion sensors and when you have a few people sitting, unmoving, in a room, the lights go out. So that happened in every interview, but I was the only one who jumped out of their chair and started jumping around because I knew somebody had to move so the lights would come back on. So I showed that like ‘Hey, this guy isn’t afraid to be silly and fun’. Mr. Murray and I also really clicked so that was a big reason I ended up getting the job.

Did you have anxiety or fright going into this job?

Yeah, it’s stressful. I had been hearing about such an amazing band program Rio was, like wow, these are some big shoes to fill. I had lots to learn about what these Rio students could really do, because the level of understanding at a base foundation was so much higher than what I was used to. I remember the first year I would try to teach a lesson and the students would stop me like “yeah we know this”. So I would test them and see like wow you actually do. I was floored that they actually knew that. 

Were you ever scared that you couldn’t teach them well enough?

Of course, it’s imposter syndrome, everyone experiences that. Like maybe I don’t belong here, I don’t deserve this, but a big part of life is sort of accepting that you do deserve everything that you have worked hard for. There has been such a strong program for so long it has this legacy of excellence and hard work. That is what keeps us thriving as we move into the future and keeps us floating during hard times like covid. 

What is the best thing about being a music teacher?

It is getting to know the kids from across four years. Most teachers get a year of Anna Wilson but I get Anna for every single year of band. It’s my favorite thing seeing people grow up and come to themselves and improve as musicians and humans. Covid really sucked because we couldn’t do band anymore, we had to change it so much. More focus on mental health and making sure the students are okay before focusing on learning music, which was actually a very positive thing looking back. 

What does music mean to you and what influence does it have on everyone?

Answering that question there are a lot of arguments for, music kids are smarter, they do better in school, they go to jail less often, and stuff like that. But that’s not why we do music. We do music because it’s human to do music. It brings people together, for birthdays, funerals, and weddings, it’s just part of being human – having music that expresses how we feel. We do music for music’s sake because it makes us more whole. It really makes you feel you are part of something bigger. That feeling of community. Humans were never meant to live isolated, one of the biggest challenges with covid was being forced to do that. The joy of now being back in person playing together again, making music again, is getting that community back. That’s the biggest thing for music I think is giving a place, giving a community to people who can’t find it anywhere else.