2009 Director’s Feature-Heritage High School
Filed under: — Dan Balash @ 11:46 am

Heritage High School is next in the director’s feature.  Heritage is located in Broadlands, Illinois, which is a town of about 300.  It is located 20 miles from Champaign.  Heritage has a school enrollment of 174, and this year, the band is marching competitively for the first time.

Today, we talk with Justin Lee, director of bands at Heritage.

Illinois Marching Online: What is your prior directing experience?

Justin Lee: Heritage Public Schools – 5-12 Band/Chorus – 2006-present, Milford Public Schools – 5-12 Band/Chorus – 2002-2006, and over 25 band camps & workshops in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Tennessee, & Georgia.

IMO: Who is on your staff?

JL: Adam Fager – Visual, Jonathan Ashbrook – Percussion, and Angie Ruwe – Band Mom Extraordinaire. In addition, we have a group of about 20 parents that handle all non-music logistics.

IMO: What is your 2009 show about?

JL: Wild, Wild Westerns! – a celebration of classic Western themes from TV and cinema.  Selections:  Themes from Magnificent Seven, Rawhide, How the West Was Won, and Silverado.

IMO: How do you arrive at your show themes and musical selections?

JL: The music has to accessible to both the students and the audience, and lend itself to readily-understandable creative movement & action.  This is critical for a group just beginning to develop like ours.  We’ve found that over just a couple rehearsals, our students found something positive to latch on to in each piece, and since we’re on the small size, everyone understands that their individual contribution to the music is significant.

IMO: What are some things to look for in your show?

JL: Everything.  It’s all new to us!  While our percussion may be pitted in the back, they are a great group with solid grasp of the musical demands in the selections.  In addition, we have an O.K. Corral-style gunfight scene with great sound effects.

IMO: What is the instrumentation/guard breakdown for 2009?  (pit/winds/brass)

JL: Pit – 7 (all percussion), Woodwinds – 13, Brass – 7, Guard – 0 (This is being added in next year).

IMO: About how big is the preferred size for your band? Why?

JL: We’ll take 100.  We’ll do just fine with the 30 we have, however.  They bring a lot of energy, enthusiasm, and musical intelligence to the table.  Over time, the goal is to get our program in the 50-60 student range, and if our junior high numbers and attrition rate stay where they’ve been the past 4 years, we’ll get there in just 2-3 years.

IMO: Is your band volunteer or mandatory for students enrolled in concert band programs?

JL: Mandatory.

IMO: What is your rehearsal schedule like from beginning of the season to the end of the season?

JL: We had a full week of camp in early August.  Since we’re on block scheduling, we are fortunate to have 2 long (80 min.) and 1 short (45 min.) rehearsals during the school week, and this is where a majority of our work takes place.  We are trying to avoid using too much after-school time, as 2/3 of the group is also involved in fall sports.  A weekly evening rehearsal from Labor Day through the end of the season in October will be called as needed.

IMO: What does your competition schedule look like?

JL: Sept. 12 – Heritage Marching Celebration here in Homer…it’s a non-competitive 3-school festival where we march, get comments, and eat.

Sept. 19 – Danville

Sept. 26 – EIU and possibly the Unity contest

Oct. 10 – Effingham

Oct. 31 – Atwood Hammond

IMO:What do you look for when you choose a competition for your band to attend?

JL: Distance and cost are major factors.  In addition, we surveyed local small-school directors for their opinions on which contests ran the smoothest, had the best comments, and just seemed to ‘work’ for their program.  We’ve been to Atwood-Hammond for the past 2 years for the parade contest, but the other shows were picked both on timing and reputation.

IMO: What are some of your favorite memories from being a director at the bands that you’ve directed?

JL:I’m a big fan of traveling with groups and building those great memories and life experiences.  My favorite times revolve around performance trips to Cincinnati & Chicago.  We have a Disney trip on our plate in a couple years, so that should be a blast.  In the past few years, however, we’ve had many memorable concert experiences, and my kids have really started to enjoy the standard repertoire.  Last year we did a concert that featured the Holst First Suite in Eb, some Grundman, a Grainger, a newer piece by Balmages, and a couple wonderful percussion ensemble numbers.  The concert just had a great aura about it, and the kids really rose to the occasion during their preparation and played at a level that they really appreciated as wonderful.

IMO: Your band is marching competitively for the first time this year.  What’s that been like so far?

JL: Exciting!  We have the strong support of parents, school board, and administration, so we’ve had no worries on those fronts.  I was expecting some attrition because of the increased commitment, but thankfully it has been very, very low and manageable.  We also picked up a few students who had not been in the program in a few years and who were now interested in this.  Even our athletic boosters are in on the gig, with some financial support for camps & supplies.

During our camp, it was amazing how fast our students picked up concepts and memorization.  Half of the band attended a Smith-Walbridge camp this summer, so we did a lot of peer teaching of basic skills.  Once we put the charts in front of them and helped them find the first position, they were able to put together the outline of the entire show (38 charts) in just 4 nights.  We have many gaps to fill in, but the time is there.

Now that school has started, they’re starting to realize everything is on a countdown, the pressure builds a little, and they know preparation has to happen on schedule to get everything ready by the time we go public.  The memorization of the music is done and now we’re working on adding in the flash to the show and cleaning the details.  We focus on making rehearsals as efficient and goal-oriented as possible, and my student leadership team is in on the entire process.  We meet weekly and plan out the next week’s goals, rehearsals, and responsibilities.  The drill itself wouldn’t be challenging to most competitive programs, but for us, when everybody’s a rookie, it’s been an experience.  However, every rehearsal has been full of successes and progress, and that is definitely helping our outlook and enthusiasm!

Illinois Marching Online would like to thank Mr. Lee for his time answering the questions, and wishes Heritage the best of luck in their inaugural competitive season.

(full article)