Picayune Memorial High School Band continues to grow

Published 2:45 am Sunday, November 1, 2009

When Tim Garrett arrived a little over a year ago to be the band director for Picayune Memorial High School, he didn’t fully realize the obstacles he was facing. Discovering only a handful of students still trying to hang on after several years of unstability in the program, he knew he’d have to dig his heels to make the band work. Students, frustrated with an ever-changing series of band directors — seven within the last four years — had dropped out of the band in droves.

“When I came in last year and looked at the roster, there were only 23 kids,” said Garrett. “I had to literally call students and beg them to come back.”

Now with 64 students between the band and color guard, Garrett said the first year was the most difficult for not only himself and the assistant band director, but the students as well. He explained that most of the students had little pride in the band or faith in themselves.

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Continuing, he said the year previous they had scored a four on a scale of one to four, with four being the lowest, at the state competition for all high school marching bands. Couple that with the number of band directors they had had, all with varying teaching styles and expectations, he was faced with trying to convince the students he knew what he was doing and to trust him.

“Last year we could not go (to state competition) because we did not have enough time to teach them a routine,” explained Garrett. “And then because of all that had gone on before, I had to convince the kids to trust us and it would all work out.” Teacher Kristina Havard is the assistant band director.

Struggling the first year to bring everyone up to speed, Garrett, whose youthful energy and spark help energize the students, said it was a long year. “The kids worked very hard,” he said. “But it took all of last year to pull everyone back in. The kids had had a terrible experience prior and it was difficult to get them focused — their priorities were in the wrong places.”

In addition, Garrett was faced with students with only first or second year band skills mixed with students ready to tackle All State competitions. “Marching band is difficult because you must play the instrument and do physical movements with the body,” said Garrett. “Some students only had skills of a first or second year band student.”

Noting that it takes approximately one week of practice to learn just one minute of a performance’s six and a half to seven minute routine, Garrett said the students really gave their all with some of the more talented students helping those not as far along.

“It was rough last year,” said senior Brandon Hutchinson, who plays the drums. Hutchinson was one of the students who had quit. But, he said, he was more than willing to re-join once Garrett came on board.

Alivia Robinson, also a senior, said she was one of the 23 still trying to make it work last year. Also thrilled with the new director, Robinson said she didn’t realize at first just how much they faced in order to be a great band. “It was a lot of hard work,” she added. “It was hard because every year there was a different band director.”

Garrett went onto to say that one of biggest the challenges the students faced was their own self-esteem over the embarrassment of the band’s failure to meet even the lowest standards in the previous year. “The kids were made fun of, sometimes to their face, sometimes to me, sometimes behind their backs,” Garrett said.

But somehow Garrett and the kids clicked and a really good band began to emerge from the ashes.

With a promise from Garrett to still be around when school started in the Fall, the kids took a break for the summer before starting practice again in July. And by the time the state competition rolled around this year, they were ready. “They worked very hard from last year to now,” said Garrett, adding that this year, the band received a one rating, the best they could get and one of only 14 bands out of 50 in the Gulf Coast region to get the top score.

“To see their faces and their happiness to hear their score called out in front of all those thousands of people — that was the best,” said Garrett. “To make such a great rating and the look and pride and happiness on their faces.”

And that fact isn’t lost on the kids either.

“This is the first time we have got a number one rating since I have been in high school,” said senior Ryan Sherrer, who expressed hopes of returning after college to help Garrett. “All that hard work last year was worth it.”