Picayune Memorial High School Band Director Retires

Published 9:58 pm Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Picayune Memorial High School band director Jerry Cumberland is retiring.

Cumberland, a Greenville native, started his teaching career at Clinton High School in 1975, and over the next four years, taught at Lumberton High School and Choctaw Central High School in Philadelphia, Miss. He came to Picayune as the Picayune Junior High band director in December of 1979.

 “My first day was the Picayune Christmas Parade,” Cumberland said in an interview last Wednesday. “I met the kids that morning … and all I had to do was march with them.”

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Cumberland took over as director of the high school band in 1984, and has been there ever since.

Cumberland said his decision to be a band director was not made until he was attending the University of Southern Mississippi in the early 1970’s. Prior to attending college, he wanted to be a radio disc jockey, he said. However, during his second semester at USM, he decided he wanted to study music and changed his major.

Cumberland said he has many mentors over the years, including the late Dr. Raymond Young, who held positions at USM as Director of Bands and Instructor of Applied Low Brass and Brass Methods, and the late Joe Barry Mullins, also a former director of bands at USM.

Cumberland also was a member of the Greenville High School band when it was under the direction of Dr. Sidney J. McKay, who went on to teach at USM and Delta State University before taking a position at the University of Memphis. Cumberland was part of the Mississippi Lion’s All-State Band when it was led by led by Roy Martin, who was a key organizer of the Lion’s band and its director for 19 years.

Cumberland also said he owes a lot to the principals and superintendents he has worked with over the years, especially D.W. McRaney, the junior high principal in 1979, and Fred Henley, the school district superintendent at the time Cumberland started in Picayune.

“He (McRaney) gave me a chance that I probably didn’t deserve,” Cumberland said. “They both (McRaney and Henley) gave a young guy a chance to do something I wanted to do my whole life. I’m very grateful for their belief in me. They saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.”

Cumberland said his years spent as a teacher have been filled with memories. “There are so many memorable moments with lots of great memories,” he said.

One such memory is that of a band contest in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

“That was one of our finest shows,” Cumberland said. “The crowd gave us a standing ovation, and really got into the show.” The band did not win the competition, but it was a very exciting time, Cumberland said.

Another memory of Cumberland’s is the Southwest Mississippi Invitational in Tylertown, which he thinks was in the 1990’s, but was uncertain of the year. “We won every category we could win that year,” Cumberland said.

Not all of Cumberland’s memories are of competitions. He is not sure of the year, but remembers one practice that was interrupted by a brief rain shower. After the rain, there was water standing on the practice field, and Cumberland said several band members were tiptoeing around the puddles instead of marching properly.

“I got out there and found the biggest puddle I could find, and lay down in it, yelling and rolling in it,” Cumberland said, laughing. “I kept telling them, ‘See this? The water’s not going to hurt you!’ They all marched through the puddles after that.”

Cumberland saidthe greatest thing about his job has been all the young people he has had the chance to work with.

“I don’t believe I’ve ever had a bad band. They’ve always risen to the occasion,” Cumberland said. “When the lights come on, they are trying the hardest they can to do the best they can.”

Cumberland has seen several of his students come full circle, in that they are now teaching at PMHS alongside him.

Some of these students include Tony Seale and Karen Balch, who are his assistants; Jaramis Jones and Deidre Carter, who work with the color guard; Tara White, who works with the dance team; Ashley Stockstill and Jessica Ladner, who work with the Junior Pride; and Ronnie Pascal, who works with the drum line.

When he talks about working with his former students, Cumberland said he has to believe in the kids he has taught and in the job that he did.

Cumberland said his retirement from teaching is not complete retirement.

“I’m going to get a job,” he said. “Hopefully something to do with music. Music is what I know.”

He also said he might like to go back to teaching one day, but he believes 31 years in education is enough for now.

Cumberland has a daughter who is a member of the dance team, and he said he would like to spend more time supporting her. “My main job is going to be watching my daughter perform,” he said.

Cumberland is going to be missed by many people.

“I’ve had the opportunity to serve with him as a student and as a dance team director. He’s a wonderful role model for all students. It kind of came as a surprise, and we hate to see him leave,” Stockstill said.