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Report: The Influence of a Good Band Room

Josh Harris • Features • September 23, 2010

Small Texas High School Band Thinks Big

How can directors successfully nurture their school’s music program? For one band director at a 2A high school in Texas, increasing participation and providing facilities to support this growth have gone hand-in-hand. It all started with a conscious effort to integrate the band into school life.

Offering Support, Flexibility

“Our band’s first priority is supporting our school period!” exclaims Jeff Henry, Band Director at Godley High School in Godley, Texas, located 60 miles southwest of Dallas. During 2007, Henry’s second year at Godley, the band started a new tradition of celebrating student accomplishments, whether athletic or academic, individual or team. Whenever any student reaches a state-level competition, the band leads a rousing send-off attended by the entire school body of 400 students.

 

“The team or student walks through a double line of band members playing our school’s fight song,” explains Henry. “Everyone cheers as they get in their bus or car and head to state.”

Activities like these pep fests have helped weave the band into the fabric of the high school, and band enrollment has risen accordingly. When Henry started, the band included 36 kids; three years later that number had almost tripled to 106 students. This fall Henry expects more than 130 band students.
All district sixth graders, approximately 120 students, take band and spend the first ten weeks in the fall trying out five basic instruments trumpet, trombone, flute, clarinet and percussion for two weeks each.

“We meet daily for 42 minutes, with 30 students all playing the same instrument,” explains Henry. “It sounds counter-intuitive, but I think this approach actually accelerates their musical development.” It certainly fuels interest: 86 percent of last year’s sixth-grade class elected to take band in the fall of 2010. When selling this idea to the district administration, he cited the correlation between music participation and high math test scores.

Henry also fosters band involvement by offering options to suit every interest. “Marching band is the most fun for kids it just is,” he observes, adding that Godley’s pep band was started for students who like playing that type of music year-round. Other students prefer Godley’s concert band. “Providing these options takes a little more work but it’s worth it,” Henry says.

He is aided by two associate directors: Taylor Cathey focuses on percussion and Carly Endres on brass. Henry focuses on woodwinds, noting, “We’ve got all the bases covered.”

Stoking the Fire: Small Texas High School Band Thinks BigBand schedules are convenient for student-athletes: marching band practices during regular class periods and Monday evenings, which minimizes conflicts with athletic games or practices. “Students don’t have to choose between sports and music; they can do both,” says Henry. “We’re suiting the kids’ schedules, not mine.”
Godley ISD Superintendent Paul Smithson praises this cooperative attitude among his music faculty, coaches and other teachers. “To compete at the level we want, we have to share students,” says Smithson. “And this is Texas, where we compete in everything!”

Improving Environments

The $28 million bond package that passed in May 2008 was earmarked for new construction or renovation projects to benefit all 1,600 students across the district’s four campuses.

“We took this opportunity to help extracurricular activities like music and athletics while also improving our facilities and learning environment,” explains Smithson, who encouraged Henry to visit the band halls of nearby 4A/5A schools for ideas. Recalls Henry, “I was told not to cut corners I had one shot to get it right.”

During his school visits, Henry was most interested in what other band directors didn’t like about their facilities what they would have done differently, what wasn’t working. Common complaints included ceilings too low, inadequate room size and storage, not enough large practice rooms, and poor traffic flow.

Based on site visits and research, Henry created a detailed PowerPoint outlining every aspect he wanted in the new facility cabinets, drawers, everything down to the last measurement.

“I detailed everything exactly and the school board approved my plan,” says Henry. The completed Godley High School music suite, which opened in the fall of 2009, totals approximately 15,000 square feet, with the main rehearsal room comprising one-third of this space. Designed to accommodate 225 students, this room measures 60′ x 74′ or 4,800 sq. ft. and features 23′ high ceilings.

Henry knew ceiling height was crucial in obtaining adequate cubic volume; reducing the ceiling height by ten feet would halve the total number of students the room could accommodate. For optimal acoustics, Wenger designed the placement of acoustical diffuser and absorber panels on the walls and ceiling.

Optimizing Form, Function

Stoking the Fire: Small Texas High School Band Thinks BigTo maximize utility, Henry planned for dual-use spaces. Large locker rooms for girls and boys each contain 100 lockers, so students can quickly get dressed instead of crowding into bathrooms or practice rooms. Because these rooms also feature ample open space and acoustical treatments on the walls, they can double as ensemble practice rooms. In fact, all the storage and locker rooms are designed large enough for this purpose; Henry says the school board valued this versatility.

To aid traffic flow by dispersing students, the instrument storage room is located across the band hall from the main entrance. It features enough cabinets to hold 300 instruments. Large double doors and nine feet of aisle space provide plenty of room. Throughout the band hall, single four-foot doors facilitate the easy movement of timpani and other large instruments.

Instead of carpet or tile floor, the band hall features rubber flooring that’s primarily intended for weight rooms. “I didn’t want carpet or a hard surface like tile,” recalls Henry. “My research found this flooring has the same noise-reduction coefficient as carpet, it’s impervious to valve oil and most liquids, and it resists abrasions.” He tested a sample for four months before deciding.

Adding a commercial-grade washer and dryer was a much easier decision; they are installed in the uniform storage room conveniently located between the locker rooms. “We’re now saving a ton of money on dry cleaning,” explains Henry. “We deliberately purchased washable uniform pants, and we wash them weekly.”

Henry’s “pride and joy” is an instrument repair workshop on par with the professional facility where he worked in his prior career. Its features include an in-floor tub large enough to submerge a sousaphone, a sealed lacquer room with a negative airflow fan and full workbenches and tools for both woodwinds and brass. Henry already owned almost $12,000 worth of tools.

“Along with repairing our own instruments, we’ve started earning money by repairing for neighboring schools,” remarks Henry. In the spring of 2010 he began offering a credit course in instrument repair to a half-dozen students. “We’re fixing some junk instruments we have, and also old or damaged instruments I buy on eBay,” comments Henry. Once these instruments are fixed, Henry sells them to students at a minimal cost because he believes ownership teaches responsibility.

Enhancing Practice

In developing his facility plan and wish list, Henry considered modular, sound-isolating practice rooms as non-negotiable items. “I didn’t want a new facility without them,” he recalls. The architect wanted to also bid built-in practice rooms, but Henry had visited too many schools where the built-in rooms lacked adequate sound isolation.

“I proposed an apples-to-apples comparison to the architect, evaluating the sound-isolating properties of the modular practice room I wanted and a built-in room, using decibel meters inside and outside each,” Henry says. When the architect replied that constructing a built-in room with equivalent sound isolation would be very costly, Henry recalls asking, “So which alternative is really less expensive?”

He also wanted the ability to reconfigure or relocate the practice rooms later, which is impossible with built-in rooms. MENC facility guidelines recommend one practice room for every 20 students, as an optimal number, with a 1:40 ratio minimum. “Our district doesn’t like to do the minimum if they can afford the ideal,” says Henry, adding, “and they embrace new technology.”

Godley High School features nine new modular practice rooms. Wenger’s active-acoustics technology is currently installed in one room; the other eight rooms are wired for it. “Students hear a realistic sound like they’ll experience in an actual performance and this is great for practicing,” notes Henry. The record/playback feature enables students to save and download their own recording, as well as upload accompaniment music.

The nine practice rooms each feature a laptop computer with SmartMusic software installed and networked to the computer in Henry’s office. Two computers also have Finale notation software.

“I’d like to eventually equip more than half the rooms with the active acoustics technology because the students really find it helpful,” explains the band director, who adds that the school board received a demonstration and is enthusiastic. “The board also appreciates our gradual approach,” he notes.

Getting Results

In explaining the board’s overall support for the new band facility, Smithson also credits Henry’s proactive, enthusiastic attitude.

“Jeff’s been realistic in advocating for what he needed for his program, not just what he wanted,” contends Smithson. “He’s also been creative in funding the extras whether through boosters, fundraising, or other means.”

Stoking the Fire: Small Texas High School Band Thinks BigFor example, school uniforms whether for band or athletics are mended by sewing classes in the home-ec department. “This crossover just makes sense, and saves us money,” explains Smithson, who also cites the valuable revenue Henry earns for the band program by repairing instruments for other districts.

“Jeff also never plays the victim,” observes Smithson. “As superintendent, I don’t want a teacher coming into my office telling me why he can’t do his job. I want to hear how he’s going to get the job done,” he says, adding that this positive attitude also works better with students.

“I’ve watched positive band directors and negative band directors in my career, and the positive ones get all the results,” Smithson concludes. While he doesn’t have a music background, Smithson’s respect and appreciation for music programs has grown over the years. “I like watching students accomplish things that’s how you become a winner in life.”

With a new facility, growing enrollment and dynamic band program, it’s clear that Jeff Henry and Godley High School have found a winning formula for success.

Based in Bedford, Texas, Steve Bright is a senior regional sales manager with the Wenger Corp. of Owatonna, Minn., a manufacturer of specialized equipment and furniture for music education and the performing arts. To request a copy of Wenger’s free Planning Guide for Secondary Music Facilities, call (800) 733-0393 or visit www.wengercorp.com.

 

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