2009 Director’s Feature-Eureka High School
Filed under: — Dan Balash @ 7:00 am

Eureka High School is next on the 2009 director’s feature.  3 weeks remain for this feature this year.  We hope you are enjoying this new feature.  Eureka is a town of approximately 5,000 people, was formerly known as the “pumpkin capital of the world”,  before the pumpkin-processing plant moved to Morton.  It is also home to Eureka College,  which is the college that Ronald Reagan graduated from.  Eureka High School is the defending ISU Class 1A Champion, and has a little over 500 students in the school.

Today, we talk with Todd Stalter, director of bands at Eureka.

Enjoy a performance of Eureka’s 2009 show entitled “Geometries: Solids, Contours, and Angles” at the bottom of this feature, courtesy of Quick Draw Films.

Illinois Marching Online: What is your prior directing experience?

Todd Stalter: While I worked on my Master’s at ISU, I directed the Jazz Ensemble at Lincoln College for two years in addition to working in the advertising department at The Pantagraph in Bloomington, but I left those two jobs to take the Eureka position in 1991, and have been there ever since.

IMO: Who is on your staff?

TS: Denise Yonker is Asst. Director of the marching band; she has been with us since 2002, and always does an outstanding job. Kari Marino is our Color Guard sponsor, and she has worked with me since 1999, so we have a great relationship…she kind of intuitively knows what I want visually, and she is able to fix guard drill that she doesn’t like because I certainly couldn’t do it any better. Marissa McClure-Mitchell does our pit percussion, and Shane Rocke does the Drumline, who are both EHS Band alumni. My drill writer is Chris Cantrell, from Texas, and this is our second year with him on board. Chris did an amazing job with last year’s drill, and he’s really good about going over design concepts and revising the drill to get it just right.

IMO: What is your 2009 show about?

TS: “Geometries” is basically a sound study on various broad geometric ideas or themes. In order, the movements are “Solids,” “Contours,” and “Angles,” and I tried to compose the music to reflect each of those concepts.

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

TS: Sometimes there is a general concept, idea, or turn of phrase that intrigues me, or if I happen to be really into a particular composer’s music at the time I might find some inspiration that way. If I am composing the music as an original suite, then it is really a much longer process…I need to concentrate on some concrete ideas or concepts in order to begin writing music that defines or represents those things, and also decide if there is enough “stuff” there to pursue some sort of visual interpretation. I also try to create a lot of basic musical material like particular chord changes or rhythmic patterns I really like, just like I would do when composing any other type of piece. Of course, I do a lot of research online, listening to tons of shows, but I try to stay open to inspiration from all kinds of music, not just limiting myself to the particular sound of marching bands. Lots of things get considered and eventually discarded before the one idea that seems to be the most suggestive creatively eventually stands out. Or, it might happen in the complete opposite way; in 2008, I had already written an opener that I wanted to use, with no attachment to any one theme or concept of any kind (I just thought it sounded cool), and one of my drum majors said listening to it reminded her of the color purple. Well, in the process of visual design discussions with my drill writer I happened to mention what she told me, and he said “I think I have the perfect show concept for you, I’ll work on it this weekend,” and he came up with the “Red Shift” idea. From the very beginning I liked the ideas of the shifting color spectrum of light and far away stars and galaxies and stuff, so we called the opener “Purple.” I then knew I had to write something pretty and smooth for “Blue,” and I figured I could adapt an aggressive, angular concert piece I had just finished called “Rampage!” to be the “Red” piece, and there you have it, a complete show concept.

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

TS: This year, our show has some very special moments and music built into it to honor the memory of Alyssa Burns, an EHS student who was killed in a car accident this summer. She played xylophone in the pit percussion, and oboe in concert band, and was going to be a senior this fall. In the days after her accident, I felt very strongly that the band needed some sort of concrete musical connection to Alyssa in order to work through the healing process, giving them the chance to express their feelings about Alyssa through the music they play. During her funeral, I was so moved by the simplistic yet awesome expression of the cantor chanting the 23rd Psalm to recitation tones that I decided to use those notes in the show in some way, since her life’s journey was filled with physical hurdles and trials over which she triumphed through faith and proud determination. There is a point in “Angles” where we will halt and make her initials on the field while playing those melodic tones, which starts in the bells and works its way through the entire band as it builds to that point, and then immediately after that is a literal quotation of 16 bars from last year’s opener, “Purple,” which represents her favorite color, and is music she played with us. There are other things in the show that reference her memory, but those things are only for the kids to know, so they can keep some things personal to them. So, our performances are going to be very emotional this fall, but also very good for the band’s healing process, I believe. Whether we win or finish dead last wherever we go, none of that matters…it’s all about honoring Alyssa’s time with us. I know that composing the music has helped me cope with her passing.

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

TS: We have 3 Drum Majors, 12 Color Guard, and 70 winds/percussion.

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

TS: I don’t really have a preferred size…I’ll teach whoever shows up. I’ve marched over 120 before, and this year we are at 85 (our school enrollment decreased this year), it doesn’t make a difference to me. Of course I’d like to keep everybody in band all four years, but with more college credit classes and increasingly tight class schedules pulling at our students’ time, it is harder to keep kids involved than ever before.

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

TS: It is mandatory since we rehearse during our class period…marching band is the sole curriculum for the 1st nine weeks.

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

TS: We have “Summer Band,” which is just voluntary evening rehearsals, once a week in June and twice a week in July. Band Camp is the first week in August, which runs 8:30 to 5:00. Once school starts, we rehearse during 4th hour band period, and then on competition days, we will rehearse in the morning before we leave for a show; we don’t rehearse evenings during the week because we have so many students involved in other sports and activities, we would be working with 2/3 of a band, and I feel that it is important for high school kids to be able to be involved in as many activities as they feel they can handle while in high school so they can gain confidence in themselves and grow as people…no one activity should consume their lives at that age, least of all mine. Drumline rehearses on Thursday evenings for an hour, and still there are kids in volleyball or soccer or whatever who are gone sometimes, but they are good about catching up.

IMO: What does your competition schedule look like?

TS: It starts early! Sept. 12 at Washington, Sept. 19 at Morton, Sept. 26 at Pontiac, Oct. 3 at Olympia, Oct. 17 at Downers Grove South, and Oct. 24 at ISU. I don’t think we’ve ever gone out and done a show just a month into the school year, so we’ll see where we are and go from there.

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

TS: Lots of factors; proximity to Eureka (since we have many kids in sports, it is important to find shows that those kids can attend and also do their earlier sports performances), and late afternoon to evening show times play a part in the decision. Also, the judging system is a large consideration; we tend to stay away from places that use the Olympic system…I just don’t think that system is practical anymore considering the complexity of what is going on in the marching activity. It seems unfair to the students, and directors don’t get the amount of helpful comments they need that address each specific area in order to improve. I feel it’s important to go to contests where the judging panel has people on it whose opinions you respect regardless of the sheets being used, and who you know will make comments that will help you and your kids get better. That’s the bottom line, to learn to be a better educator and to have your kids become better musicians.

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

TS: When I look back, I find that I get the greatest enjoyment from the times my students overachieved and created moments for themselves that were greater than they ever expected because they were rewarded for their hard work and their belief in each other, such as winning 1A at ISU for the first time in 2000, and of course in 2008, when it seemed like it was totally implausible, but they did it anyway. Simply put, my favorite moments are seeing the joy on my student’s faces when they are truly happy making music, and the communication in those moments we share as conductor and musicians. Of course there are memorable events such as getting drenched in Dallas, playing at IHSA State Tournament basketball games in Peoria, or leading my band through the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, but watching my students mature as musicians and as good people are very important things to me. On a purely selfish note, conducting my band at Orchestra Hall in Chicago, walking on that stage, standing on that podium where so many great conductors have stood, looking out at my kids, ready to make music in that beautiful hall…I was almost overwhelmed when I realized exactly where I was, and what I was about to do! That moment is pretty special to me.

Illinois Marching Online would like to thank Mr. Stalter for his time answering the questions, and would like to wish Eureka the best of luck with the rest of the season.

Now, please enjoy Eureka’s 2009 production, “Geometries: Solids, Contours, and Angles.”

(full article)