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Friday 22 November 2019
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Above and Beyond New Hampstead Band is Growing With The Times

Story by CASIE WILSON

Photos by NATALIE MCALISTER

A hush falls over the stadium crowd as a few dozen student musicians
take the field late on a muggy September afternoon. The little band,
donned in simple dark t-shirts tucked into black pants, seems out of
place among the much bigger groups that line the stands. But where
they lack the flashy uniforms typical of high school marching bands,
New Hampstead makes up for it with sheer confidence.

Over the past year, New Hampstead High School’s band has
skyrocketed above and beyond expectations in skill and performances,
overcoming obstacles that young, new bands face with a sense of pride
and novelty.

Since greenhorn director Alan Weathers joined the program in
March of 2013, the band has gone through some changes. They adopted a
fight song― the Fighting Irish Victory March of Notre Dame fame― and
plenty of other tunes to play in the stands. “Low Rider” has proven to
be a crowd favorite.

Alan said that with the school system’s help, New Hampstead was
able to overcome basic expenses that hinder some band programs.

“The Savannah-Chatham school system covers the cost of repairs
and things, which is really cool and a lot different than other band
programs,” he said. “A lot of directors have to raise the cost of
repairs on their own and through band boosters. We don’t have to worry
about that, so most of what we focus on is cost of travel.”

And travel they did.

The New Hampstead band appeared in four marching competitions in
2014, including the Southeast Bulloch Band Blast, the Coastal Empire
Classic, the East Georgia Marching Championships and the Marching
Mustang Invitational. Competing in Class A, a division reserved for
the smallest bands in the area, New Hampstead beat out numerous older,
more established groups for the title of Best in Class in all three
competitions the title was available.

“All of this was in our first year, without uniforms or a color
guard, with a first-year director and a band almost completely made of
freshmen,” Alan said. “That’s almost unheard of.”

He will gladly rattle off the band’s multiple titles and
accomplishments to anyone who asks, and with good reason. In a
competitive marching band circuit like southeastern Georgia’s, where
tradition is key and bigger is better, New Hampstead’s string of
successes so early in their existence is nothing short of
extraordinary.

Along with the multiple Best in Class titles, New Hampstead also
received some much-appreciated feedback.

“Most of the comments obviously told us to get uniforms,” Alan
said. “We got a lot of constructive criticism about our show design.
That’s kind of expected for a guy who’s not used to placing kids on
the field, so I’ve had to educate myself in how to expand myself in
that area.  Besides that, we got a lot of compliments on the strength
of our sound. We may be a small band, but we sounded a lot bigger than
what we were.”

He suggests the secret to their sound may be simpler than one would think.

“I’m really big on breathing and playing with proper air
support,” he said, “and I believe that marching band translates to a
concert setting beautifully if you approach it right.”

This past year’s marching band consisted of 32 musicians, with 23
on the field and nine in the percussion ensemble on the sideline known
as the pit. Despite their small size, the band delivered powerhouse
performances of their show titled “Heartbreak.” The band brought down
the house with catchy songs of remorse and reunion, from Green Day’s
ballad “When September Ends” to Tavin Campbell’s “Eye to Eye” from “A
Goofy Movie,”  and from Bon Jovi’s “Shot through the Heart” to a
remake of “Cinema” by Skrillex― “with the dubstep drop and
everything,” Alan is eager to add.

And for this coming season?

“This year, we’re doing a ‘Fright Night’ show,” Alan explained.
“The opener is going to have the themes from the movies ‘Psycho’ and
‘Halloween’ in it― you know, spooky, scary stuff.”

The second song is going to have music from Tim Burton’s “A
Nightmare Before Christmas,” followed by a ballad inspired by the
theme of the old horror film “Candyman.” Finally, the band will bring
it home with a mash-up of “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder and Michael
Jackson’s “Thriller.”

Although the fall semester of the New Hampstead High School band
is dominated by marching competitions and halftime shows, with the
spring comes a focus on concert performances. For Large Group
Performance Evaluations, the major concert of the year and main source
of unbiased feedback for most high school bands, they played “Fidelity
March” by Karl L. King, “Shenandoah” arranged by Robert Sheldon, and a
faster tune by Brian Balmages called “Electricity.”

“With a smaller, younger band in a concert setting, things are
usually more intense,” Alan said. “We didn’t do quite as well as we
had hoped, but we got some very constructive comments for next time.”

Alan is no stranger to southeastern Georgia’s performing arts
community. After graduating Southeast Bulloch High School, he earned
his bachelor’s degree in music education from Georgia Southern
University. He taught part-time at Pope High School for a while and
even worked with Teal Sound Drum and Bugle Corps writing percussion
music. Despite his experience, directing a high school band is still
proving to be a learning experience for him.

“I’ve been doing as much footwork as I can, considering it’s my first
year and I’m still learning what does and doesn’t work,” he said.

Of course, Alan is quick to admit that none of this would be
possible without help. He keeps in touch with local directors as much
as he can, both for advice and to pass along information about the
program to the parents of potential musicians.

“Their biggest challenge is being a new program,” said Lee
Ewing, director of bands at Windsor Forest High School. “You have to
convince students that they are starting a tradition instead of just
joining one. Some students buy into that, and some students have a
hard time swallowing that pill. I think he’s done a great job showing
them that they are beginning something great, rather than just doing
it to fill space and time.”

Alan can testify that starting a tradition rarely ever comes with
a step-by-step guide, and never comes without challenges.

“At first, no one knew how a band program works,” he said. “We
were going to band competitions, and the parents would be expecting it
to be like the movie ‘Drumline,’ and that’s not how it works, you
know? It’s a struggle and an uphill battle, but now that we have a
band booster program and parents that know what’s going on, it should
be easier.”

“Alan has done some really fine things, especially out on the
marching field,” Lee said. “He’s got the students believing that what
they’re doing is the right thing and that they’re good at what they
do. And because of that, they’ve shown some great achievements over
the past year.”

However, Alan insists that the students are solely responsible
for the band’s success.

“Honestly, the kids have done all the work,” he said. “All I do
is sit and yell at them about all that went wrong. They’re the ones
who brush it off and say, ‘Alright guys, let’s make this better.’
They’re the ones who win the trophies. They’re proud of this season,
and they’re very proud to be a part of this band.”

Alan has sent out 46 band handbooks this summer and expects a
bigger turnout for this marching season. With a lot of students
expected to return, he hope to come out of the door swinging for this
season and start competing with some of the bigger bands.

In the future, New Hampstead hopes to start up a golf tournament
fundraiser, hire a full band staff and make an even bigger name for
themselves in the performance community of southeast Georgia.

“With Pooler blowing up the way that it is, there’s plenty of
people coming in who will need a school like New Hampstead and a band
to represent this growing community,” Alan said. “I think New
Hampstead can be Pooler’s band.”




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