Person of the Month: Rojay Moore

By Dwain Hebda

Over the course of nearly 20 years in music education, Rojay Moore has impacted the lives of thousands of young people, been named Teacher of the Year in not one but three Central Arkansas school districts, written multiple books and launched several nonprofits aimed at mentoring teenagers and promoting music education. But you’d never know any of this to look at him on the first meeting.

Photos by Mike Kemp

That’s not because he doesn’t wear his passion for what he does on his sleeve, but because he’s been blessed with a perennially youthful appearance.

“I still get stopped in the hallway from time to time,” he said with a laugh. “If they’re not looking at me from the front, people sometimes mistake me as a student. Sometimes when another teacher comes in and I’m mixed in with the students in the band room, they’re like, ‘Where’s the adult? Where’s Mr. Moore? Oh, there he is. I thought you were a student.’”

Moore, who just completed his second year as Director of Bands for Jacksonville, North Pulaski School District, said such snafus aside, his appearance is a way to connect with students. That and keeping up with popular culture help him communicate in ways that narrow the generation gap.

“It really makes a big difference because they see me not as their equal, but as relevant,” he said. “I’m relevant to them because I know the lingo, you know? I still speak with a youthful vernacular, I dress a certain way and I know what the cool terms are. That makes it easier for them to relate to me.”

Whatever the secret sauce to his approach may be, Moore ladles it on thickly and has the results to show for it. His current position is a prime example. When he arrived in 2022, he found Jacksonville’s annual summer band camp had dwindled to a paltry 17 musicians. By band sign-up day in the fall, the number had already doubled, then jumped to nearly 75 at the end of his second year. For the 2024-2025 school year, enrollment is approaching 100 band musicians.

“Kids were hearing about the band, and kids that were in the band liked it,” he said. “After that, we’ve kept a lot of the kids. We’re growing. We’ve even outgrown our instrument inventory.”

A native of North Little Rock, Moore grew up in church, where he gained a firm foundation in music that grew and expanded over time. His interests were nurtured by his older brother and sister, both of whom played in the school band, but for whom music was merely a sidebar to their other activities, namely athletics and student government.

“They gave me that foundational understanding of what band was, but I was the one that actually stuck with it,” he said. “I played sports, but as everybody else got bigger I didn’t, so I stuck with music. Music was always my strong suit.”

Originally, Moore set his sights on a performance career, a goal that led him to the University of New Orleans, where he studied under the late Ellis Marsalis, world-renowned jazz musician and educator. By the time he earned his undergraduate degree in 2005, the winds pushing his career sails had shifted.

“Around my last year and especially my last semester, my desire for performing wasn’t as it was when I went in,” he said. “I’ve always been a mentor, even when I was in high school. I would always mentor the younger kids. Later on I began writing lessons for music classes, and I would volunteer to teach while I was in school.”

Moore began as a sub in a North Little Rock middle school and from there graduated to jobs in the North Little Rock and Little Rock school districts prior to landing in Jacksonville. Along the way, he established nonprofits, including RockTown Community Performing Arts, which places an emphasis on jazz studies and performance while also offering marching and pep band ensembles; Serious Young Brothers, a male leadership organization; and the teen group TeenU.

The future may include even more diversity of experience as Moore continues to explore filmmaking along with other interests. That may sound to many like a lot of passions to juggle, but to a mind that has mastered eight musical instruments it’s just another way of embracing life while giving students more opportunities to connect with him in the process. 

“I connect with ’em in a lot of ways,” he said. “I’m highly engaged in things because that’s how you build rapport. I’ve grown to love teaching, but I always tell students I have more in me than just teaching music. I want them to know it’s OK to pursue whatever they feel most connected to.”

Dwain Hebda