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

Part 2 of our double feature today is Carrollton High School.  It is a town of about 2,400. located47 miles northwest of St. Louis.  Today, we speak with James Duncan, director of bands at Carrollton.

Illinois Marching OnlineWhat is your prior directing experience?

James Duncan: This is my eighteenth year in teaching. I’m originally from west central Missouri but lived in the Kansas City area for many years before settling in Warrensburg where my wife and children still live. I’ve taught in Missouri schools for 17 years in mainly small rural school districts with six of those years spent in the Kansas City Missouri School District. The majority of my work as a band director has been in the role of “rebuilder” and I’ve had the privilege of working with several small school bands that have gone on to great things. This is what brought me to Carrollton.

IMO: What is your 2009 show about?

JD: Our show is “Titanic.” We are using music from the James Cameron score from the 1998 motion picture. We open with “Never an Absolution” as a woodwind trio which leads to “Southampton.” The second movement of our show is “My Heart Will Go On” and we close with a medley of several selections associated with the sinking of the ship collectively titled “Finale from Titanic.”

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

JD: I like to look for things that grab the kids interest. I have found that motion pictures, especially musicals (i.e. Rent, Mamma Mia, etc.) provide a lot of opportunities for doing themed shows. I do have to say that I’m leaning very strongly to a “rain” theme for next year’s show. “Bring on the Rain” has become our team motto since our first marching competition. The kids marched the Beardstown Fall Festival parade the last weekend of September. About two blocks into the parade the rain came and it rained on our parade! Seven bands in our division and we brought home 3rd place. We left the kids on the bus while the drum majors and I went to the awards ceremony and when we came back to the bus we hid the trophy. I told the kids how proud I was of them for their dedication and perseverance through what were terrible conditions (every band was soaked to the skin!). Then I said “Guys, if it takes a rainstorm to get the kind of performance out of you that you gave today I say: Bring on the rain!” and then held up the trophy. This band hasn’t competed in over 20 years so it was a real breakthrough moment for us.

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

JD: A little under half of the band is middle school kids and it’s our first year out of the shoot so we’re keeping the drill VERY basic. We can concentrate on producing a good sound and show solid basic skills without overwhelming the kids which is most important right now. I think the most interesting part of our show is the sinking scene where we have the entire band depict drowning victims while a clarinet quartet and a solo snare play “Nearer My God to Thee” from the center of the field. Of course we “resurrect” the band for the final push! It was nearly a month into the school year before we got to start the drill work as I had to sit out the first two weeks waiting on ISBE to issue my teaching certificate so we’ve been struggling a bit to get the show done but we’re getting there. We’ll have two of the three movements on the field for Shelbyville and have the finale up and running for our last competition of the season at Pinckneyville.

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

JD: Guard is new this year for us. We have three girls out right now and several have expressed interest in winter guard. Drum line is our strongest suit with ten young men (3 snares, 2 quads, 3 basses, 2 pit). 15 woodwinds and 3 brass round out the horn line. Obviously we’re way short on brass as many kids had quit the program over the past several years. It’s going to take a while to build up this section but we are getting vibes that there are several former members who are coming back out at semester now that they’ve seen that we’re back to being serious about band and being active.

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

JD: We started the year with a mini-camp the first week of August working on marching basics and starting to learn the show music. This year we have to work around a very difficult rehearsal schedule which only allows us to get the two bands together to practice once or twice a week at best. It is what it is for this year as I didn’t get hired in until the middle of July and the school was originally taking the position down to half time because of low enrollment. That means that the master schedule was at a point where it couldn’t be modified to turn us into one band. We also have separate campuses for middle and high school. For 2010-11 we already know that we will combine and meet as a single band and do this for the next two or three years until the instrumentation and numbers get back on track.

We have daily class time (50 minutes at the high school, 45 at the middle school). We bring the middle school over to high school once or twice a week depending on what we have on the performance schedule that week starting at 7:30 a.m. and keeping the middle school band with us through the end of first period when they get bussed back to their building. On top of that we do at least one after school practice (which we have to schedule around sports practices).

We are very lucky to have a super supportive head football coach here. He’s very much pro band and volunteered to have the guys who aren’t starters come play pregame and halftime with us. It’s a very good arrangement and I have to say that Nick Flowers and his coaching staff are hands down the best folks I’ve ever worked with! His position about his players that are in band is simple: at halftime, unless you’re a starter, you play with the band! No discussion!!

IMO: What does your competition schedule look like?

JD: For 2009-2010 our primary focus is on parade marching but we planned from the get-go to get us into at least one field competition for the sake of getting the kids out to some events so they can see and experience competitive marching band. We’re a VERY big sports school and the kids totally understand competition and had no idea that there was a band “sport” out there! Our schedule for this fall includes 6 parades (2 hometown and 4 competitions – Beardstown, Illinois State University Homecoming, Shelbyville Ramfest, and Pinckneyville Mardi Gras). We are also entering field competition at Shelbyville and Pinckneyville.

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

JD: I’ve never liked the term “mandatory” but I suppose that to a degree it is that. Marching band is an integral part of our band program here at Carrollton. It’s not optional, it’s an expectation and the kids understand that this is part of the whole band picture. The good news is that with only one or two exceptions everyone bought into marching so it’s really a non-issue for us. Now I’ll quickly add that we’re all looking forward to the end of the season so we can throttle back a notch or two and get to work on building up the kids playing and reading skills, get our basketball pep band started (which will include jazz band this year!), and concentrate on working toward next year’s marching season through our concert band season as well.

IMO: Who is on your staff?

JD: Let’s see… That would be James Duncan, Jim Duncan, James R. Duncan and the ever-popular Jimmy Joe Jim Bob Duncan… <laughs> I’ve got it all from K to 12 here for this school year. We have been extremely fortunate to be able to have Kenneth Kay (retired director from Gillespie) with us the first month of school as the designated “certificate holder” while the wonderful, hard-working folks up at I.S.B.E. were trying to get my application processed! Ken spent two weeks on his own working with the kids and was a real blessing to us. Even though he’s back home now enjoying morning coffee with his fellow retired band directors group we’re keeping him listed as an assistant director as a thank you for his hard work. He’ll also be coming back from time to time to work with our middle school, cadet, and beginning bands which we’re very excited about!

Our new mathematics instructor Patrick Dugas (a former drum major from his high school years) has been working with our drum majors and Kathy Hausman (the dance team instructor and a former guard member for Ken Kay!) helps out with the guard here. Our superintendent, Dr. Elizabeth Pressler, is a former music instructor herself and will be stepping in to help out with our jazz band and occasionally clinic our choirs.

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

JD: As we developed our schedule for this I looked at what performance opportunities there were in the area. My goal was to get us into events that would offer us the biggest opportunity for successful experiences early on. We definitely didn’t want to hit the kids with any kind of negatives this year so I’ve looked for festivals which tend to place an emphasis on young, inexperienced, and small school bands. Down the road, as our band numbers increase and the performance skill level increase we’ll start looking at bigger challenges. For now, though, we do what’s in the best interest of the kids and that means opportunities for growth and success.

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

JD: 300! All kidding aside I have no true preference on this. My attitude is simple: we want the band experience to be available to anyone and everyone regardless of skill level. Our high school/middle school combined enrollment is somewhere in the area of 400. Using the 20% formula that means our school should be able to field a band of about 80 kids. That would be the biggest band this school has seen in better than a decade so it’s not a realistic expectation right now. We’re focusing on growing the program from the bottom up. We had 30 kids come out for beginning band out of a potential pool of 63 this year (which also includes our outreach program to the local K-8 parochial school). 80 is my goal but realistically speaking if we end up with 50 to 60 kids out for band I’ll be ecstatic!!

We’d like to see 12 on battery, 4 to 6 pit players (including bass and guitar), 40 winds and brass, and a guard of 10 to 12. Our enrollment forecast shows 36 for 2009-10, 44 in 2010-11, and 60+ in 2011-12 so I feel like we’re on a positive track and these numbers don’t include former members who have left the program that could potentially come back. In short, band is back at Carrollton and we intend to make it a very big thing here!

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

JD: Wow! Let’s see, HOW long is this article supposed to be??? There are some really big stand-out moments for me… The small group I had three years ago that took 1st place at Missouri State’s Homecoming parade, watching the kids sit there for about 10 seconds in disbelief then have it hit them and seeing them go nuts. That’s a good one… Taking a bus load of kids to Indianapolis as a season-end reward to watch BOA Grand National Finals… Getting up at oh-dark-hundred and cooking breakfast for my kids on the last day before Christmas vacation every year… Like I said, HOW long is this article?

I think the best memories are those that are based on those little “a-ha!” moments when a kid finally “gets it.” Seeing those faces every morning (sometimes without seeing the eyeballs — which is a band thing that a lot of people wouldn’t understand!) is extremely important to me, getting those smiles and greetings as I walk down the hall, etc. etc. We took 20 of our band members to the BOA St. Louis Super-Regional this past weekend and watching their eyes get about a mile wide and actually getting into what they were seeing take place was a big thrill (then, again, so was picking one of our band kids at random for “surprise birthday” treatment at Hard Rock!).

I guess the best thing I can say is this: I’ve seen a lot of this great country from the front seat of a school bus and the coolest part is being able to do that with Mona along with me and a bus load of band kids right there with us!

Thanks to IL Marching for including our new band program on this website and for the opportunity to talk about what we’re up to!

Illinois Marching Online would like to thank Mr. Duncan for his time answering the questions, and would like to wish Carrollton the best of luck the rest of this season and next year as well!

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