CULLMAN, Ala. – We recently reported that three local high school band programs had received all superior ratings from the Alabama Music Educators Associations for their ABA Music Performance Assessments. Now, Cullman County can proudly say four bands are indeed superior. The West Point High School (WPHS) Concert Band scores were finally revealed, which were all one’s (superior) for the second year in a row-–something the program had not achieved since the mid-90’s.
This year has been filled with many ups, downs and unique challenges for area band programs. WPHS band is no exception. Robert Patrick, band director at West Point High School, Middle School and Harmony School, sat down to talk about the many challenges band’s face today and the tremendous benefits of being in the school band.
The MPA performance was a challenge this year as school’s were instructed to record a video of their performance to be judged virtually. Patrick said of the process, “We had to submit an audio and video. This is not a room you want to record in. The ceiling is too low and it is cinder block. Trying to get around that issue was daunting to say the least.”
The pandemic created plenty of obstacles and more than once, the band had scheduled a day to record for the MPA’s, only to have school dismissed for severe weather.
This year, West Point had two students earn spots in the Alabama Bandmasters Association (ABA) All-State Honor Band. Kellen Drinkard on bassoon and Kira Kuznyetsova, who made Jr. High All-State, on clarinet. “They are the only two kids we had to try out this year. We are hoping to get that up too,” Patrick said.
On May 1, 2021, West Point was the only band in Cullman County to attend the ABA Solo and Ensemble at Muscle Shoals Middle School. Patrick explained, “Solo and Ensemble is literally where they go in a room with a judge and they play individually, a solo, or they play an ensemble. An ensemble can be a duet, trio or quartet. They grade them just like they do for the MPA.” Patrick took thirty–five students and collectively they earned 56 medals.
West Point High School Band has 10 seniors graduating this year. Patrick said, “As of right now, we’ve got seven who will probably earn music scholarships and we have another we are trying to get to try out.”
With seventy, possibly eighty percent, of the band’s graduating seniors positioned to earn college scholarships, Patrick hopes younger students will see the opportunities that come from joining the band. He added, “One thing about music, if you make it to this level, I have never ever had a kid that didn’t receive a music scholarship that wanted it.”
Patrick, who is originally from Mississippi, has been directing bands for 26 years. The 26 years of experience brings connections. He said, “I can pick up the phone, I’m not bragging it’s just the way it is, and call the two directors there and I can say, ‘Hey, I have a kid that can play tuba, what’s the minimum?’ Minimum is usually full tuition and usually, over there (Mississippi), they get rid of the out–of–state tuition and half the room and board. That’s one phone call just because they graduate out of the program.”
Patrick recalled a study done several years ago that revealed that there is more money available at the Division 1 level for band scholarships than there is for football, cheerleading, baseball and softball combined.
Two members of the West Point High School Band’s drumline, Hagen Loyd and William Ferster, were busy practicing for their auditions with Wallace State. Both encouraged others to join the band. Loyd said, “You make better relationships with kids that you really wouldn’t think you would make relationships with. You can get scholarships from the band. There are some musicians in the school that don’t join the band because they think it’s nerdy, but I think it’s pretty cool.”
Ferster added, “Also, you meet a lot of really cool people. During clinics and stuff, you meet all these really high–end musicians and you are getting taught by them.” He added, “Meeting the other bands, it’s pretty neat.” Band is unique in that, although they compete with other bands, the camaraderie is positive and encouraging. Traveling to games, competitions and special performances also provide incredible experiences and memories.
Perhaps Loyd summed up the West Point band experience best by saying, “The opportunities you will get along the way are like no other.”
Copyright 2021 Humble Roots, LLC. All Rights Reserved.