Left to right: Bobby Patrick, West Point High School; Jesse James, Hanceville High School; Melanie Gonzales, Good Hope High School (Hayden Hyatt for The Tribune)
CULLMAN – Three different Cullman County High Schools have new band directors for this upcoming school year.
The Tribune spoke with each of the new directors to find out a little about them and what they will be bringing to the table for their students.
Bobby Patrick, the new band director for West Point High School, may be new to West Point but is not new at all to band.
“This will be 23 years for me,” Patrick explained. “I taught last year in Mississippi; before that I was an assistant director at Florence High School, then I was at Phil Campbell High School for 14 years.”
Patrick was eager to come to the Cullman area.
“Cullman County is a special place for me. I've had friends that live in the area and have visited a lot over the past couple of decades,” said Patrick. “I’m excited to be here because it’s somewhere I've always wanted to be. It doesn't hurt that my daughter that's all grown up now lives in Birmingham, too.”
As new director, Patrick seeks to bring continuity to the school’s band program.
“One thing that's missing with this program, and it happens with some band programs, is there just hasn't been a lot of continuity with directors,” explained Patrick. “Even Mr. (Ty) Parker (the school's previous director) knew that and spoke about it whenever he and I talked. He said the one thing this program needed was continuity and that's with any program. You really need some kind of continuity and I'm hoping to be that.”
The West Point community has already had a great impression on Patrick.
“I'm just glad to be here. The one thing about the West Point community is from the time I walked in the door for the interview, all the way until right now, it just feels like home,” said Patrick. “It's very open, a lot of support, and I'm really excited to see what this group of kids can do over this year and years to come.”
Jesse James, the new Hanceville band director, recently started at the school and hails from Mississippi.
“I started here toward the beginning of June, just trying to get everything going and ready for camp,” said James. “This is my first year here at Hanceville and this is my second year living in Alabama. I taught for three years in Mississippi prior to moving to Alabama last year and teaching. I actually taught over in Winston County last year, up at Meek.”
The Hanceville High School band has scaled down a bit this year, but that's not a problem for James.
“We're a little smaller than we were last year, but this year we’re really focusing on that quality, good quality,” said James. “Because my personal philosophy is, if you have that good quality, the quantity is going to come. We're looking to grow in the future, but we’re going to start from here.”
James plans to bring some of his personal teaching style into the program.
“I'm a very positive-minded, energetic, 'let’s have some fun,' kind of guy. I'm really easy-going, but with that sometimes you want to make sure the students still respect you. I am huge on respect,” said James. “I want to make sure that my kids not only respect me, but they respect each other, they respect their parents, teachers, everything. I really try to make my students be the most well-rounded people you can find. We've already got that seed going here. These kids are super respectful, super hard-working, and you can't ask for much more than that.”
James continued, “When it comes to the kids and everything, if you're having a good time and you're doing something fun and energetic and entertaining, the kids are going to love it, too. That brings a really positive atmosphere to what we do.”
Melanie Gonzales, the new band director at Good Hope High School, comes to Good Hope from California and has a history growing band programs.
“I started off teaching at a performing arts school. I started with a guitar class and a band class, then I grew that position to a full-time position,” said Gonzales. “Then I went to Lincoln High School and there we had 20 kids involved in band, and when I left we had 78. Then I was at Clairmont High School for eight years where I taught elementary band, middle school band, I had orchestra, I did jazz band. There I started off with 55 band members and ended with 120, and then my orchestra started off with 22 orchestra members and we ended with 86.”
Gonzales was excited to come the Alabama from California.
“My husband and I both knew California was not it for us. He was stationed in Mississippi at one point and so we drove through there and I was like, 'Nah, I don't get that feeling like this could be home,’” said Gonzales. “Immediately when we crossed the border into Alabama, I was like, 'I could live here.’”
She continued, “It's really great. We did a little drive through and we started looking around the area and it was just like the right fit for us. I'm originally from Connecticut and I came from a smaller town, so this is kinda like reminding me of home.”
Gonzales is bringing some of her own style to the Good Hope High School band.
“Obviously, coming from California, I'm going to bring a little bit of my experience out there to what we’re doing on the field. We've added working out,” Gonzales said. “So, we do a good 20 minutes of working out and the students are keeping up. I do it with them, so I don't make them do anything that I'm not personally doing.”
Gonzales has been impressed by the Good Hope community and her students.
“I think the big thing is just that I'm really enjoying being here. I feel like everyone's been extremely friendly and people are very caring. It makes my job a whole lot easier.” smiled Gonzales “The students are really working hard, and working with the kids is why I do what I do. I feed off of their energy.”
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