The View from the Top

Mike Lawson • Archives • May 14, 2008

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Being named the Bands of America Grand National Champions is no small feat. And achieving that honor with a largely economically disadvantaged student body, where about one-third of the students participating have been playing music for less than three years and none have been marching for more than two, is downright astonishing.

On the other hand, Hurst, Texas’ L.D. Bell High School is no stranger to the podium at BOA’s Grand Nationals, having placed in the top three each of the past three years, so one might have figured that an eventual breakthrough to the top of the field was inevitable.

For Jeremy Earnhart, the director of the Blue Raiders band, the bottom line is about maximizing his students’ achievement. In this recent SBO interview, Mr. Earnhart details his own musical upbringing and the methodology by which he has lead the L.D. Bell band to such great heights.

School Band & Orchestra: How did you first become interested in music?
Jeremy Earnhart: My father was a band director, so it was a little hard to avoid. [laughs] In fact, my parents met at the University of Michigan because they both played French horn.

SBO: Tell me a little bit about your music education growing up?
JE: I started playing the trumpet in summer band before my fourth-grade year. At that time in Long Island, where I was raised, to play music you sat in an elementary school band for three years and middle school band for three years. When I got to high school and was able to start traveling and seeing the larger world of music education, it became a broader interest of mine.

Also, as I started to practice more I was able to feel the rewards that come from the time spent on an endeavor the individual benefits that come from working hard and achieving, and being able to do that with multiple people.

SBO: By “multiple people,” you’re referring to an ensemble setting?
JE: Yes, the concept that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This was something that was particularly appealing to me.

SBO: Were you playing primarily concert music? Were you playing jazz as well?
JE: Our high school had a comprehensive band program. I was actually in my father’s high school band for a year. Of course we started with marching band, because that’s what happens, then into concert band and then jazz band.

SBO: What kind of music did you listen to when you were a teenager?
JE: That’s tough. I liked Chicago, De La Sol, and Maynard Ferguson.

SBO: Sounds pretty eclectic. You played under your father’s direction for a year? What was it like being in your own dad’s class?
JE: I was only in his band for one year because he moved over into administration. I think the hardest thing about it was the first day when I raised my hand and had a question, and I had to think about how to address him. [laughs]

SBO: Did you blurt out “Dad”?
JE: Right, what do you say, “Mr. Dad”?

SBO: That’s funny. So you were cruising through high school, did you play in touring ensembles?
JE: I did the local circuit of the all-county and all-state groups and I also played in the St. John’s University pep band. That gave me another level of travel on NCAA tours and seeing what was out there.

SBO: While you were in high school? How did you manage that?
JE: My dad was the band director there, too. I hate to make that a common theme here, but it’s true. My freshman year of high school, they were going to go on tour and one of their trumpet players couldn’t go, so I went, played well enough, and that was that. I stayed with them for the next three seasons.

SBO: Was there a defining moment when you knew you were going to dedicate at least the immediate future to music education?
JE: Let me put it this way. I think that once you’re in band, you’re just in band. When people would come to do recruiting for us when I was in junior high, it was like, “Why would you do anything else?” And again in high school, “Why would you do anything else?” So I just kept going through college.

SBO: You went to the University of North Texas, correct?
JE: Yes. It was terrific to be a small fish in a big pond and have to work my way up the ladder. It was like real life.

SBO: I guess that was a little different from your high school, where you had that lifeline with your father.
JE: Right. One of the experiences I really enjoyed coming down to Texas was being able to make my own way without having family members that could have been part of that achievement process.

SBO: So you studied performance and education. Tell me about your first teaching experience?
JE: My first teaching experience was at the Brewer High School and Middle School, where I taught every single grade level as an assistant band director. I did beginning instruction. I worked with the second middle school band. I helped with the middle school jazz band. I helped with the marching band. I taught the second concert band and the high school jazz band.

SBO: Sounds like a full plate. What were those ensembles like?
JE: I’ll say this: It was a terrific experience to help start building a program.

SBO: Well, it’s rare that a young band director’s first position will be running a world-class band. It’s taken you a few years, but that, in fact, is where you’ve ended up. You’ve now been at LD Bell High School for 10 years, and your band has garnered some rather extraordinary honors, including being named Grand National Champion at the Bands of America National Championship last November.
JE: One of the things that I like about the Bands of America process is the ability to get real assessment and feedback in a positive and improvement-based manner. Each year we’ve participated in their competitions, we’ve been able to make improvements in our program based on what it is that their competitive process through adjudication allows. I think it’s a terrific example of competitive education.

SBO: It’s interesting that you bring up the competitive angle, because that is sometimes a controversial element to music education. Some have said that, in many ways, music isn’t inherently competitive

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