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Band Director shares "How to Win a State Championship"

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By Ron Benningfield

Though LaRue County High School Marching Band of Hawks’ state championship Class AA performance took only eight minutes, its preparation was a year in the making.
“We started thinking about it last November, but began thinking about the actual theme and design around February,” said Jaime Smith, band director.
Similar to coaches providing input at a pre-season meeting, Smith, assistant director of bands Michael Collins, percussion instructor John Harris, color guard choreographer/instructor Natalie Walker, and director emeritus Gene Hoggard shared ideas and opinions last winter about this year’s marching season.
 “We came to the table with ideas and we hashed them out, accepting some, challenging others, listening to different types of music until we came up with something that felt right,” Smith said.
Collins offered, “As we discussed, we kept in mind that we wanted to make a show that would bring the audience into it.”
When this year’s theme, “Starry Night,” inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s painting arose, Collins interjected putting a well-known song, “Vincent(about Van Gogh),” by Don McLean, as the introductory piece.
“I didn’t really like the idea at first,” Smith said. “But as we went deeper into the planning, I came around.”
Walker, who choreographs the color guard performance and designs the flags, does her work by first listening to the music.
“I really choreograph by the feeling I get from listening to the music,” she said.    
“We want the music to have variety, lots of highs and lows, with different instruments taking charge along the way,” said Smith.  “Once we had the music we wanted, we provided a copy for Jack Pursiful to write out the drill.”
In creating a performance, the directors have in mind the four criteria on which judges will score:  music performance(how well the band plays the music), visual performance(how well the musicians march in sync), and musical and visual effect(how the judges are affected by watching and listening to the performance).  
 “You can’t achieve those four criteria without employing variety during the performance; it’s got to be a roller coaster,” said Smith. “‘Do I see what I hear?’ is the question we ask ourselves.”
Also like athletic coaches, the directors meet after each performance during the season to review band videos.
“I list the mistakes I see the color guard making, then work to eliminate those the following week,” said Walker.  
Collins, who is also LaRue County Middle School’s band director, has his own technique for critiquing each performance.
“I watch the video with the sound turned off, then with it on to give me a different perspective,” he said.
Smith and the others also listen to the real-time comments recorded by each of the judges as they watched the performance.
“That’s how they come up with their final scores, from those real-time comments,” said Collins.
Hoggard, LCHS’s first band director who, during a 20-year tenure, led the Band of Hawks to two state fair championships, works with the different instrumental sections during band camp and throughout the school year as well as with middle school musicians.
From his years of experience, he has found the hardest part of directing a band is to keep the members focused.
“Repetition takes care of the drill, but it also reduces focus,” he commented.  “To provide a continued focus, the band must have quality musicians and good leaders.”
Smith added that another difficult idea to get across to the students, especially the younger ones in the 42-member band, is the proper attitude toward what they do.
 “They must realize that whatever any single person does in marching band affects every other member in that performance,” he said. “That places an incredible amount of responsibility on each of them and also says a lot about this year’s young group where 75 percent of them are sophomores or younger.”