MARTIN, Tenn. – Marching band directors appreciate the sights and sounds of a top performing drum line. Aiming to be the best they can be for football halftime performances and band competition season, the Huntingdon High School Band was among seven bands participating Aug. 23 in the 10th Annual Drum Line Tune-Up Day at the University of Tennessee at Martin.
The event began at 8:30 a.m. in the Fine Arts Building’s band room, with the Huntingdon band closing out the day’s performances in its second year at the event. Other bands participating were Liberty Tech, Stewart County, South Gibson, Munford, McNairy Central, and Waverly Central. Guest artist Julie Davila presented a marching percussion clinic and also provided individual instruction.
Jill Bonds directs the Huntingdon High School band. She is a Huntingdon High School graduate and in her third year at the school. Derek Cook is the band’s assistant director and is a UT Martin graduate. The band last won a state championship in 2005 and is coming off a third-place tie last November at the Division I State Marching Band Championship at Riverdale High School in Murfreesboro. The band’s 45 members are aiming even higher for 2014.
“As a group, we have decided to set the bar high this year and keep our momentum going from last competition season,” Bond said in an e-mail interview. “So in terms of competition, our goal is to finish in the top two at the Tennessee Division I State Band Championship. That would mean we are making gains in terms of placement.” In addition to competition goals, Bonds wants the band to be “the leader of school spirit,” both for the student body and the community.
Bonds’ major instrument is the clarinet, so having this kind of instruction available is important. “At Tune-Up Day, the students receive instant feedback and suggestions on how to improve technique,” she said. “Since it's often difficult for us to get a percussion instructor at every rehearsal due to budget and our location, the students leave Tune-Up Day with a wealth of knowledge and work on implementing it throughout the season.”
Dr. Julie Hill created Drum Line Tune-Up Day in 2005 during her first year as a UT Martin faculty member. The associate professor of music and director of percussion studies saw the new event as a way to raise funds for her program and also reach out to high school bands in different communities.
“Our program hosts events throughout the year that focus on world music, contemporary music, chamber music and more,” Hill said via e-mail, estimating that her students perform annually for more than 5,000 people. “But with so many high schools in Tennessee putting their entire fall focus into the marching band genre, it seemed only natural to include an education event focused on the marching percussion genre into our array of offerings to surrounding programs.”
Interest in the event has grown so much that band directors contact Hill to participate. Seven bands are the maximum she can accommodate, and each receives personal attention. “Each program gets 50 minutes of individual instruction time and receives instant feedback on their technique, phrasing and musicality of their ensemble,” Hill said. “We also give them feedback on their percussion music for their fall marching band show, and we make suggestions that will hopefully give them a more successful and positive fall performance season.”
Participating bands also receive bonus attention on top of the individual instruction.
“Lastly, we actually help ‘tune up’ the groups by helping to fix any instrument or carrier problems they may have, as well as tune their drums if they need help with this,” Hill said. “Thus the name ‘Tune-Up Day’ has several different implications.”
The other event highlight is instruction by Davila, adjunct instructor of percussion at Middle Tennessee State University. Davila also performs with Hill as a member of the Caixa Trio chamber percussion ensemble. Hill describes her as “one of the best rudimental players I know,” adding, “She is friendly and efficient and can really help groups tremendously in a short amount of time. Students have a good time learning with her, and she provides the students and instructors with tools they can take back home and work on for years to come.”
Marching Mustang band members talked about their band experiences in the percussion studio just before working with Davila. Emily Coleman, an eight grader who plays marimba, said that percussion sections are “good for keeping tempo, and they add extra dimension to the music.” She sees the Tune-Up Day as excellent preparation for the band. “It’s good for helping with technique and just getting your music better,” Coleman said.
Ben Reiter, a senior percussionist, said that the Mustang football team has already taken notice of the band’s performance during the opening home game Aug. 22 with Obion County.
“I mean, I was talking to one of my football player friends earlier on today, and he was saying that last night we were really helping pep the football team up and getting them excited and getting their adrenaline flowing so they could play a little bit better,” Reiter said. “That was just when we were in the stands, and some of them heard us out on the field, too, during halftime.”
Band members share similar goals and optimism for what this edition of the Marching Mustangs can accomplish. “I definitely want to win the state this year or at least get above third,” Reiter said, who believes the band is capable of bettering last year’s finish. “Other than that, just do better with the music.”
Darius Bills, a freshman who plays the snare drums for the pep band among other percussion duties, likes his experience so far and appreciates how fellow musicians have supported him in his first year. “My hopes are just like getting higher than we did last year and becoming better as a band, as a group.”
All credit Jill Bonds for her leadership and ability to help the band reach its potential. “Ms. Bonds is great,” Coleman said. “She really helps out a lot, and she’s really patient, and she’s a very good instructor.” Bills added, “Actually, like she slows down and takes her time, and like even if she has to keep us over, maybe like 30 minutes or an hour after rehearsal, she will do that just to help us.”
“I really like Ms. Bonds,” Reiter said. “ … She really cares about us, and she’s always looking for ways to help improve the band, like asking us if we need anything, like new sticks, or the woodwind instruments if they need new reeds or anything like that. She’s always making sure we have everything we need to be good.”
Emily, Ben and Darius then joined their fellow band members in the band room as the final group to work with Davila. She demonstrated, encouraged and listened intently as she coached this important section of the Marching Mustangs to be the best it can be.
With high school football halftime shows underway and competition season just ahead, this tune-up session put the finishing touches on many hard hours of practice for these seven high school bands. Each left UT Martin ready to take the field, entertain crowds and promote school spirit as only marching bands can do.
PHOTO CAPTION – Emily Coleman receives personal instruction from Julie Davila (right) during the 10th Annual Drum Line Tune-Up Day on Aug. 23 at UT Martin.