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Andy Soucy: The Dividends of Commitment

Josh Harris • Archives • July 6, 2009

In the past 12 months, the more-than-300-member Londonderry (N.H.) High School Marching Band has traveled to China, marched at a Presidential Inauguration, performed at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City, and been honored by New Hampshire governor John Lynch, who issued a proclamation for an official Lancer Marching Band Day last October. At the helm of this burgeoning program is music director Andy Soucy, who has just completed his 37th year at, as he says, the only job he’s ever applied for.

It would be a stretch to say that these past 12 months have been the culmination of 37 years of work. However, Soucy does cite a director’s commitment to the music program and its students as the foundation upon which a program’s success should be built. In a recent conversation with SBO, he states as much: “It takes time to build a program, so the director’s commitment to that program is the first step.”

Like so many other music educators, Andy began playing music in elementary school. He first played in band during high school and also spent some time performing with the Spartans drum corps in Nashua, N.H. At that time, Andy also started to gig. He had a trumpet and was learning piano on his own, performing at weddings and other functions with a little combo back when he was only 16 years old. From there, he went on to Keene State College, and after that, in 1972, started teaching in the Londonderry School System.

In the following interview, Andy outlines his program’s evolution, sharing the details of a few of the more memorable experiences he and his students have had along the way.

School Band & Orchestra: What prompted you to study music education?
Andy Soucy: Ever since I was a child, I have been fascinated with music. There was a lot of music and singing in our household growing up, and I knew music was always going to be an important part of my life. When my dad encouraged me to take music lessons, it was just meant to be. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with music until I started playing in drum corps. At that point, one of the instructors became a real inspiration to me. He advised me to get a degree in music education because then I’d always have that to fall back on, even though I hadn’t thought seriously about going into education at that point. What he told me made a lot sense, so I followed his advice.

Andy Soucy
The Londonderry Lancers at the Great Wall of China.

When I first started teaching, I continued playing with my band, and I kept that going for a long time. I wasn’t sure if I was going to really like teaching, but I fell in love with it. I’ve been here since I started, which is a pretty long time, 37 years now. If somebody had told me back then that I would still be here in 37 years, I would have said, “No way, I have other plans.” But it really has worked out to be a wonderfully supportive and exciting community.

Years later, I did a masters program in administration, thinking that I would want to head in that direction, but I don’t know if I could have left the program. It reached the point where this has been a very strong part of my life. I won’t call it an obsession, but this is very meaningful and very important to me.

SBO: Tell me a little bit about the early days of your time teaching. What was the program that you walked into like?
AS: There was no high school program when I started. When I came in, I was just teaching grades six, seven, and eight. That was in 1972, and in ’78, the high school opened.

SBO: What were your initial goals when you started at the high school?
AS: Very simply, to get as many people involved in the music program as possible. It was a very exciting thing to do. I had written a few holiday tunes and we recorded a 45 record nobody knows what that is anymore [laughs] and everyone was excited. At the end of the year we recorded our concert and made an album. It was like a pied piper’s dream; everyone was interested in becoming involved with the music program. When the high school opened, we had a good turnout for band, orchestra, and chorus. We had good enrollment in the program, and that has continued up through today.

SBO: And what are your numbers like today?
AS: In a school of almost 1800, we have just over 500 students that come down everyday for a music course. We have four concert bands and one symphonic band. We have two jazz ensembles, one by audition and one which is an intro group. We have three choral groups: chorus, concert choir, and chamber choir chamber choir being the select choir by audition. We have an orchestra with over 40 strings. In addition, we have piano and theory classes. And that doesn’t include color guard, which meets after school. It’s really a cool thing to be in the music program in this town. It’s a wonderful opportunity for the kids.

The Londonderry High School Lancers at a Glance

Location: 295 Mammoth Road, Londonderry, N.H.
On the Web:
www.lancermusic.org
Students in High School
: 1766
Students in Music Department: 502

Curricular Ensembles (with Student Enrollment):

  • Concert/Marching Band (257)
  • Symphonic Band (46)
  • Color Guard (35)
  • Combined Marching Band (332)
  • Jazz Ensemble (19)
  • Intro to Jazz Ensemble (28)
  • Orchestra (40)
  • Concert Choir (35)
  • Chorus (29)
  • Chamber Choir (15)

Recent Notable Events:

  • April 8, 2009: LHS Drumline performs at the Boston Celtics Halftime Show; then, by request, returns for a Playoff Game halftime performance on April 20th.
  • March 17, 2009; 310 Band & Guard members march for the 14th time in the annual New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
  • January 2009: 280 Band & Guard members represent N.H. in the Presidential Inaugural Parade in Washington, D.C.
  • June 2008: 252 Band & Guard members participate in a Beijing 2008 Pre-Olympic Music Festival.

OTHER

  • Manchester Monarchs Hockey On-ice performances yearly 2003 2008
  • NASCAR On-track / pre-race performance yearly 1996 2007
  • Walt Disney World 2006, 2001, 1996
  • Pasadena Tournament of Roses 2004, 1997, 1992
  • Orlando Citrus Parade 2002
  • JFK Aircraft Carrier Performance for Parade of Tall Ships 2000
  • Miami Orange Bowl 1999

At the middle school, we have 11 bands. They aren’t all huge, but about 35-40 kids per group. We have 11 choruses and three string ensembles. I would say we have about 80-85 percent of kids in performance groups at the middle school next door. There is a lot of interest in this town.

SBO: What do you think it is that makes the music program such a vibrant part of the community?
AS: I think a large part of that comes from our philosophy, which is that music is for everybody. We try to make it an open door opportunity for people. We have a lot of students that are just in band for one year and then they drop out, and that’s fine. We also had about 80 graduating seniors in the band this year, so a lot of them do stay with it, too. The marching band is about 330 students on the football field. We took 280 students to the Inaugural Parade this year, and we had 310 in New York City for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Not everybody goes on the trips every year, but we do show up in pretty big numbers.

SBO: It must have been pretty exciting to bring 280 kids down to Washington D.C.?
AS: We were so honored to get that invitation. Of all the inaugurations, we felt like this was the one to be at because it was such an earth-shattering event. At one point, there were 1.8 million people on the mall. The numbers where just unbelievable and we were delighted to be there.

However, it was not an easy parade. It was kind of scary, in some respects. We had to report at the Pentagon at a certain hour, the highways were closed, we had parents with us that wanted to see the parade; it was really tough logistically, but we understood why. The Secret Service had a job to do, and we all recognized and had great respect for what they were doing. I told the kids that this is a military operation, not just a typical parade.

So we arrived at the Pentagon and when our division, division 5, was ready to go, we all rolled in convoy to the White House, which is where the staging took place. But the parade was delayed. When we actually marched, it was dark. We stepped onto Pennsylvania Avenue at 6 o’clock, and at 6:25 we were in front of the President of the United States. All of the protocol that has to be adhered to was very, let’s say, enlightening. We had no idea of all of the rules we’d have to follow. For example, the band director can’t be on the same side of the street as the President, no eye contact with the President, and all kinds of other things.

It was exciting. I was cold, the kids were really cold, the valves on instruments were starting to freeze up, but those kids cherished that memory and that will stay with them for their entire lifetimes.

SBO: I can only imagine. In addition to the Inauguration, your bands have participated in a number of very high profile events. What are some of the challenges of maintaining a music program of such size and stature?
AS: The best way to describe this is that I think we have a good team. We have a wonderful parent organization called “Friends of Music.” We have 80 or more attendees at our meetings every month, sometimes more than 100. We have a lot of family involvement and we have a lot of siblings involved. Basically, we’re very accessible. We’ve seen a lot of friendships develop between families because their children are in band. Our administration is also very supportive, and we just have a good school. It hasn’t been any one thing that has helped us to prosper, it’s been an ongoing sequence of opportunities. We have a really wonderful team and you could say that people play together here really well.

SBO: About the Friends of Music organization, was that something that you originally put into place?
AS: Yes. At first it was called “Friends of Band,” but we changed that because we wanted it to be more inclusive. We had some help from an attorney, who helped us draft some guidelines. We registered with the State Attorney General’s office and got a federal tax ID number. We were given some good advice and we just went with it. That’s the nuts and bolts of it. We presented it as a chance for parents and the community to celebrate the opportunities that their children were taking part in.

SBO: It sounds like your program is in a great situation. Even so, have you felt the pinch of tough economic times?
AS: Not as a department or a program, but we’ve seen it in the families of our students.

SBO: Do the Friends of Music help support the trips financially?
AS: Actually, they are mostly parent-supported. Washington D.C. was a $500-trip. In some instance we help kids go, but we have to be very careful that we don’t step on toes because there’s a lot of pride involved. That said, we do help students out, although it depends on the kind of trip that it is. For instance, we’ve been to the Rose Bowl three times. When we go there, we’re representing the school and we’re representing the state. If the group is going to another event that is more of an elective event like Disneyworld or some place like that we would not do the same kind of fundraising. For events where we feel we have a larger connection to something, where there was regional representation involved, then we will use all our resources to make sure that every student musician who wants to go will be able to.

We have fundraisers all the time for students, and some parents do not want their children to do fundraising. Some kids have jobs and they’ll put money aside towards their trip. We give them opportunities and the students do what they need to; some might do one fundraiser and not another, depending on how much money they need to amass to participate in a certain event, so it varies greatly for each student.

SBO: What kinds of fundraisers do you hold?
AS: We’ve done everything from selling candles to flea markets to coffee sales. The brochure-type events usually have a 40-percent return, which is pretty good. We also do walk-a-thons where students solicit pledges. We’ve done other unique things, like a cookbook where parents provided recipes; that was a lot of fun and very profitable. We’ve held a lot of different fundraising activities over the years. Some kids are really motivated and sell a lot, some are okay, and others just don’t get involved.

Andy Soucy
The Lancers drum line at the TD Banknorth Garden.

SBO: Your goal when you were first establishing the program was to get as many students involved as possible. Has that goal shifted over the years?
AS: I think that any student who wants to be a part of the program has that opportunity here, and that, to me, was our goal back than, so I think we’ve achieved that. We’ve done three Rose Bowls and the Miami Orange Bowl, the Citrus Parade, and many other events. I don’t know exactly what’s next, but we’re always planting seeds, so to speak. Time will tell what will happen.

SBO: What is it that you hope your students take away from their participation in your program?
AS: I hope that they take away a feeling of fulfillment, of personal reward and satisfaction. I hope that they feel that the cultural opportunities that they’ve had within the music department are unique and will serve them throughout their lives. I tell the kids that whether they continue with band or not, never forget how good the program was to them. They’ll have a chance to be supportive of the arts on down the line, and that’s very, very important.

SBO: Do you have any advice for band directors out there who may be looking to build up their programs as you have?
AS: It takes time to cultivate parent support to where you want it. It is not just a two-year activity to create a system where there is administrative and parent support, you have to keep building. It takes time to build a music department, and the director’s commitment to that program is the first step.

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