A Culture of Excellence and Caring in the Southwest Dekalb High School Band

James Seda • ChoralMay 2022UpClose • May 2, 2022

For well over 60 years, music and band have been vital parts of the student experience at Southwest Dekalb High School (SWD). SWD is in Decatur, Georgia, an eastern suburb of Atlanta.

The SWD band program consists of marching band, three concert bands, jazz band,

percussion ensemble, various instrumental chamber ensembles, dance auxiliary team, color guard, and majorette team. Our bands have approximately 140 members in a Title I school.

The SWD Marching Panther Band performed in the opening ceremony of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, the 1997 Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, the 1997 Carnival of Flowers Parade in Nice, France, the hit movie Drumline in 2002, featured as a exhibition band at the 2002 Bands of America Grand National Championship, the 2006 and 2011 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, 2017 Chicago Thanksgiving Parade, 2018 Waikiki Holiday Parade and Pearl Harbor Commemoration in Hawaii and a host of other local and national events.

The wind symphony has performed as a featured ensemble at the Music For All National Concert Band Festival, University of Georgia January Concert Band Festival, Georgia Music Educators Association Conference, Troy University Southeastern Concert Band Festival, HBCU Band Directors Consortium, Georgia State University Southeastern Concert Band Festival Music For All Affiliate, Kennesaw State University Concert Band Invitational Festival and the Minority Band Director’s Association first concert band festival.

The Student Experience
Ranking high among our proud traditions is the success of our marching band. The hard work, dedication, and spirit our students demonstrate afforded us many amazing opportunities. The key to a successful marching band is to have strong systems in place. From staff to student leadership, to senior band members, sectional coaches and strong alumni commitment, there is a connected line of people who have “skin in the game.” Our standards and concepts of sound, marching and creativity in performance have lasted through many years and through many band directors.

The students work hard with the understanding and expectation they too will have the opportunity to experience great performance moments, the excitement of Friday nights, and the wonderful performance opportunities offered around the country for exceptional bands.

 With excellence as a goal, we’ve established a very high standard of musical expectations predicated on the philosophy that every child can and will learn. 

The students are constantly navigating through the many challenges that may be present in a Title I school, ranging from funding shortages, class scheduling, lack of quality equipment, and over-testing. Nonetheless, our strong culture for band and high standards of musical excellence are always present. We teach our student to buy in to the expectations and to be accountable. Our student leadership program constantly produces some of the finest, high character, hardest working students in our school. Through very careful training and guidance we give student leaders autonomy to make productive decisions that positively affect their sections. They become a very useful extension of the band staff.

Very few of our students can afford private music lessons. We creatively seek instructional assistance from various sources in our community, which includes neighboring band directors, various alums, music pros willing to donate services, and free master classes from collegiate applied faculty.

The excellence of our marching band comes from the work we do in our concert and chamber ensembles. Our daily curriculum borrows from various time-proven methods to address embouchure development, tone production, scale studies and solo and chamber ensemble literature. Before our students work on the current concert literature, every single class and rehearsal covers breathing exercises, long tones, flexibility exercises, scales, chorales, and sight-reading. We are constantly striving for a refined product (“The Concert”) but our students seem to gain more reward from the process (“The Rehearsal”). We’ve had more memorable musical moments, shared more joyous laughs, and revealed more profound spiritual, mental and emotional strides during our classes and rehearsals. 

These are just a few testimonies from students in our band program:

“Overall, the SWD Band has allowed me to create amazing relationships with my peers, college band directors, and outstanding musicians from around the world. Through these bonds, I have been granted many opportunities I wouldn’t have found anywhere else and for that I will be forever grateful. I Love the Band.”

– Courtney Brammer, senior clarinetist, drum major

“The SWD Band has changed my life for the better. All the leadership skills and lessons I know have stemmed from this program. It is the reason I was able to obtain a leadership role during my first year of college. I’ve received endless opportunities from being a part of this wonderful program and I plan on contributing to its legacy for as long as I live. Thank you SWD Band!!!”

– Ameerah McFarland, class of 2021, former flute section leader, current freshman, criminal justice and pre-law major at Florida A&M University

“The SWD Band helped impact my growth and ability to be a leader and acclimate to certain situations in the real world. The band helped me establish personal relationships within the organization and within the community.”

-Iyahanna Murphy, junior saxophonist, saxophone section leader

“The SWD Band has impacted my life in countless ways. They’ve encouraged me to step outside of my comfort zone and become the person I am today. I was shown family isn’t just blood relatives but is who you allow to be your family. That is the SWD Band.”

– Lesley Remy, Jr., junior trombone player

“The SWD Band has had a tremendously positive impact on my life. It is the reason I was able to attend college. Many beneficial habits and relationships were formed and for that I am forever grateful I was able to be part of the best band in the land.”

-Rondell Rockmore, class of 2021, former tuba section leader, current freshman music major at Florida A&M University

“The SWD Band has impacted my life by making it known I have talents nobody else has. This band is more than just a band. This band teaches that ‘Working Hard Is Most Essential.’ That’s how we develop our band to its potential.”

-Chance Wright, sophomore percussionist 

“The SWD Band not only gave me once in a lifetime experiences, it also allowed me to grow musically and develop creativity, discipline and leadership skills.”

-KaJuan Williams, class of 2021, former trumpet section leader, current freshman psychology major at Kennesaw State University

“The Southwest Dekalb Band taught me a skill that will last a lifetime. To keep moving toward my goals and dreams and to continue to strive for perfection. Above all, it gave me a family that will be there for me always.”

-Isaac Williams, senior clarinetist

“In short, The SWD Band has tremendously impacted my life. I’ve been able to exercise all my passions in some form by being a participant. I’m forever grateful to my band director, Mr. James Seda. I’ve learned effective leadership skills, developed an unwavering spirit of excellence, built great relationships, and have landed many entertainment industry opportunities. I’m glad to say I have a home and community that offers love and support.”

– Dope Oloyede, class of 2021, former head drum major, all state saxophonist, currently freshman music theatre major at Howard University.

“The SWD Band has impacted my life forever. The list of phenomenal opportunities I have received could go on and on. I have strengthened my leadership skills, musicality, and self-discipline. My participation in the SWD Band has truly aided in shaping me into the person I am today.”

– Austin Tennant, class of 2021, former assistant head drum major, current freshman mechanical engineering major at Florida A&M University

The Band Director

I am the smallest part of the success equation for our band program. I have taught in this community for my entire twenty-two-year educational career. I am simply a responsible steward of the history, traditions, concepts, and philosophy of the band. I’ve seen our school and band enrollment go through drastic changes over the years, but the quality of teaching and learning has remained strong. I make a conscious effort to keep the students from allowing in any negative elements that may exist in the school, community, and their personal lives and, instead, focus on self-improvement, working hard, academic success, positive character, and developing a life-long love for music.

James Seda has received numerous honors and is a member of the American Bandmasters Association among other professional groups.

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