ROCKINGHAM — The Raider Band didn’t expect to have a new director as members prepare for the first kickoff of the football season, but the students have “stepped up” to make the transition as seamless as possible.
Keith Gibson met his drum line and color guard last week, and Thursday was the third day of camp for the full band.
The band normally practices outside, but rain forced them into the gym, where Gibson’s voice reverberated throughout the dissonant echo chamber, his words punctuating the tepid horns of young musicians finding their way on an adaptation of Frank Sinatra’s “Luck Be a Lady.”
The band was too “jazzy” on one line when it needed to be more “crisp,” observed Erin McNair, chair of the Department of Fine Arts, so Gibson had the musicians vocalize the beats and tones. McNair, who teaches the chorus, said that kind of teaching tool was one of the “meat and potatoes” strategies band directors use to help their musicians get a piece right in their heads so they can focus on replicating it through their instruments.
When the students finally nailed the section, Gibson stopped them.
“Make sure that wasn’t an accident,” he said. “Let’s go again.”
Originally from Cuthbert, Georgia, Gibson is in his 21st year leading a school band — 19 leading a high school band. He taught in Georgia for 13 years and seven in New Mexico before taking the Richmond Senior High School job to be closer to family who live on the other side of Charlotte.
For this first week of camp with the full band, Gibson said he was “finding out where they are as musicians” to build a foundation on which to build.
“You’re thrown in, and you have to hit the ground running,” Gibson said of his situation. “It takes time for kids to warm up to changes.”
Drum major Katie Curtis, a senior, said the band was devastated by the previous director’s departure.
“As time went by, we accepted it and wanted to get to know our new director,” Curtis said. “We all loved (Mike) Ward.”
Ward will be band director at Ellerbe Middle School.
Daniel Diggs, assistant director of the band and a science teacher at the school, said he assured the band members they would be taken care of and would have a good season this year.
“I wanted them to understand that change is a part of life,” said Diggs, who was a drum major at RSHS for the 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 seasons. “Every teacher has their own style, and there’s no right or wrong, but it’s hard when you’ve gotten used to one way of doing things.”
“They’ve welcomed him and stepped up,” he said. “Everyone’s responded (to the challenge).”
Gibson said he was asking the band to be patient as members got to know one another.
He wants them to push their abilities beyond what they think is possible, and to inspire more pride and spirit for the team from the community.
One way he hopes to grow the program is by doing more to transition middle school band members into high school band members by giving them a chance to play the Raider fight song at halftime.
Curtis said Gibson had changed a few of the commands the band is used to: Instead of saying “hut” when they stand at attention, for instance, they now say “one.” The band seems to be moving father through their routines, she said — already running through their first movement three days in.
“He’s been really good for the band disciplinewise,” Curtis said.
McNair noted the subtle changes the wind section made at each of Gibson’s directions as students tried to hit a crescendo just right. She said it was good to see Gibson being really specific with the band’s sound because it helped identify bad habits early.
“Texture, that’s one of the things he’s doing really well,” she said. “I like the excitement he brings to teaching … He’s really getting in there with them.”
Gibson has chosen “Viva Las Vegas” as the band’s theme for the year — hence the Sinatra.
McNair described that style of music as “bright and engaging.”
Diggs noted the delicate balance directors must find between appealing to the crowd on game day and appealing to judges at competitions — but “Viva Las Vegas” strikes a middle ground.
It’s too early to tell how the band will fare in competition this year, McNair said.
Gibson said he had a competitive streak and planned to take the band to at least three competitions, keeping them within reasonable distance so parents can drive out to support their children.
On competing, Curtis said she was “always confident” the Raider Band would perform well.
“It’s magical watching these kids grow each year,” McNair said. “The way they work together through thick and thin is one of the things I love most about the band.”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]