Area bands grow, compete, learn

Published 1:15 am Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The bands at Demopolis High School and at Linden High School have diverse backgrounds. The DHS band has a long and successful history, while the LHS band is in its second year.

Both represent their schools well, and both programs are striving for success and an enjoyable and long-lasting musical education for its students.

At DHS, Matt Fields is in his first season as the director of the band.

Email newsletter signup

“I came in pretty close to the beginning of band camp, around the first of July,” Fields said. “The halftime show that we did, I actually brought with me. It’s one that I’ve been wanting to do for a while. When I got down here and saw the size of the band and heard them play for the first time, I thought it would be a good fit for them.”

The band started in late July with a week of drum and dance line camp, followed by a week of band camp.

“From there, it was pretty much non-stop, with the dedication of the new stadium and getting ready for the upcoming season,” Fields said. “We practiced twice a week until 5:30 after school. Throw in 15 ball games and a couple of parades, and that makes for a busy season!”

The spring semester is even more important for the band members, as they prepare for the music performance assessment for concert band. Although the band had a happily extended football marching season due to the football team’s championship success, the focus now is in music performance assessment at Tuscaloosa in February.

“The people who have been in band before probably know it as district festival or district contest,” Fields said. “We will prepare three pieces and travel to Tuscaloosa to play in Moody Hall at the University of Alabama. We’ll play before a panel of judges, then we’ll do sight-reading, where they hand out a piece that we’ve never seen before. We have seven minutes to look over it, and then we have to play it for the judges.

“Concert band is where you really build your band, when we can buckle down and really work on basics and improving the quality of our musicianship. That’s one thing I’m looking forward to this spring.”

Fields said that Demopolis’s playoff run was a fun, exciting time for the band, almost as much as it was for the football players.

“I’m a graduate of Alabama, and I marched in the Million Dollar Band there, so I spent plenty of time in that stadium,” he said. “I was glad for my students to get that experience, especially considering that we didn’t go to contests this year. To perform in that stadium in front of that crowd, that was really exciting for them.”

Fields said the band boosters have been a tremendous support this year, working at concession stands, chaperoning the buses and several other areas.

One of the first things that Fields did after gaining the position at DHS was to start a Web site for the band at It is an aide with the band for information about practices, upcoming games and changes in the schedule.

Fields splits his time between the high school and Demopolis Middle School.

“As the middle school band goes, so goes the high school band,” he said. “It’s not where you can just take kids and plug them in (to fill the slots after graduation). You would have the numbers, but you wouldn’t have the quality. So, you’ve got to start in sixth grade. You recruit a bunch of beginners, and hopefully, they will continue on. The schools with the biggest bands are the ones with the biggest ‘feeder’ programs.”

At Linden High School, William Barnes was hired to direct the band, which was reformed after it was discontinued years ago. A longtime high school band director who once led the Demopolis High School band, began with a year of preparation before beginning its first marching season in the 2008 football season.

Superintendent Steve Collier expressed an interest in restarting the band at Linden High School, and it began in the 2007-08 school year with the after-school program. The next year, the band became a regular school program.

Barnes began his career in 1965 as the band director at a private school in Jackson, Miss. From there, he went to Choctaw County High School in Butler, where he served 26 years as the band director, then to Demopolis, where he directed for eight years, then retired.

“I thought I was through, but I still had a little ‘band’ left in me, so I worked 10 more years in Mississippi,” he said. “I worked at Clarksdale for three years, Kemper County for two years and Meridian High School for five years.”

Joe Johnson, who oversees the Linden after-school program, contacted Barnes and asked him to return to Marengo County to help the LHS band get restarted.

“The students were hungry for a band,” Barnes said. “They really wanted to get a band started, and not only the students who were participating in the band, but the student body, the parents and the faculty. Everyone just wanted to see it grow. I think that’s one of the reasons that it’s grown so fast!

“As a musician, I know that there is a long way for us to go, but I can see where we’ve come – where we started and where we are now. It’s a tremendous amount of growth in a short time.”

The band program is also active at George P. Austin Junior High School.

“We started at George P. Austin last year,” Barnes said. “The first year, we had a beginner program there. That’s potential nucleus for the future band. As we keep new people coming in, the band will continue to prosper.”

With the marching season completed, the LHS band will now prepare for its spring concert season.

“I feel like this is where we really learn how to play,” Barnes said. “I really stress that students participate in concert band. The better we are at concert, that means that next year, the better the marching band will play.

“The concert band is a ‘sit down and play’ band. We work scales, technique and fundamentals and we don’t have a lot of time to do that during marching season. During the concert season, we can sit down and show them how to play and how to produce a correct tone on the instrument. Hopefully,we’ll have even better success than we did last year.”

Barnes said that his goal is for the band to reach the level where it can compete in contests during marching season in the fall and at the music performance assessment in the spring.

“We need some time before we can get ready for that now,” he said, “but we’re going to shoot for that for next year. I think the band will get better as they get into the competitive realm, see other bands, listen and hear, so they learn by going to those competitive festivals.”

Barnes said that there has been great support for the band since it began as an after-school program. The band boosters came in and painted the band building and made other improvements.

“Right now, they are trying to raise money for uniforms,” he said. “They have helped with money for our traveling expenses. They are very active and supporting the band.”

The band is more than students marching and playing music. It is an active arts program that could lead to a college scholarship or even a career in music. One thing is sure: It is a source of pride for the schools and the teams it represents, and is bound to find as much success as the schools’ football teams have found.