Jeff Sands applauded as one of '50 Directors Who Make a Difference'

January 11, 2024

Jeff Sands and the cover of the SBO+ magazine he's featured in, the Dec. 2023 issue

M State music instructor Jeff Sands is having a moment in the national spotlight as one of School Band and Orchestra Magazine’s “50+ Directors Who Make a Difference.” The magazine’s December 2023 issue recognizes one outstanding music director from each U.S. state and the District of Columbia, and Sands is Minnesota’s honoree.

Sands has been conducting bands and teaching music courses for M State’s Associate of Fine Arts degree program since fall 2021. Originally from Brainerd, he previously taught music at Bemidji State University and for the Bemidji School District. His teachings over the past 11 years of his career, along with his many active involvements in local and statewide musical events and organizations, have impacted the lives of thousands of students, parents, colleagues and community members.

Sands is a Bemidji MusiCamp and Fergus Falls Concert Association board member as well as advocacy co-chair for the Minnesota Music Educators Association and drum line instructor for the Fergus Falls High School Marching Band. He is also an adjudicator for band contests throughout Minnesota and has been active with the Perpich Center for Arts Education, among other involvements.

“Jeff is so involved in music, and he’s connected across the entire state,” says Alicia Carley, Dean for the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences at M State. “He sees the value that music can bring to students, in a holistic sense – what hard work and persistence can do to help students develop confidence and self-worth, and the holistic wellbeing that music can bring to people’s lives – and that’s what he brings to students every day.”

School Band and Orchestra Magazine, also known as SBO+, is a leading monthly magazine for music educators, with a 24-year history of publishing an annual list of the nation’s most noteworthy band and choral directors. The magazine solicits nominations for honorees, which are reviewed and selected by an editorial board. Nominations are anonymous and may be submitted by a student, colleague, parent of a student, administrator or other person familiar with the nominee’s work.  

M State held a brief public celebration for Sands, including a small ceremony and presentation of a commemorative desktop plaque, during the college’s holiday concert on Dec. 3.

“It’s a well-earned honor,” says Sands’ fellow M State Music Faculty member Laura Quaintance, who describes her colleague as “organized and goal-driven.”

“He leads by example in the ways we want our students to succeed in music,” she adds. “He’s approachable while still maintaining rigor, so students see their improvements and successes when they work at it. He focuses on building relationships with students, so they have a sense of belonging and connection at M State.”

In his published comments in SBO+, Sands states that, “The most important lesson I try to teach students is to take ownership over their lives and education. I hope that I can help them achieve their goals and instill a sense of self-confidence, positivity, perseverance and generosity. Learning a scale or memorizing facts and dates isn’t what matters most in music, it’s the self-discipline and other things not in the curriculum that set our students on a path of success.”

Read all of Sands’ comments in the December 2023 issue of SBO+, available online at