While the day started out overcast and cool, by mid-afternoon on Tuesday, the sun broke out and the temperature quickly climbed to close 90 degrees with high humidity. Given the temperature, the drills being performed by the West Lincoln marching band were an athletic workout, especially for those carrying the larger instruments. Not all of the students in West Lincoln’s marching band are high school students. Some are seventh and eighth graders and they kept right in step with the older students. The new band director, Jacob Brittain, was prepared for the summer weather wearing shorts, a wide-brimmed straw hat and dark sunglasses.
This is Brittain’s first season as West Lincoln’s High School’s band director, replacing Taylor Brown, who left to join the Marine Corps Band. Brittain and Brown attended Appalachian State University together and had stayed in touch after they graduated.
“He called me about this position and I think put in a good reference for me before he went to basic training,” Brittain said. “I know Taylor really took this program and built it up. When I was in high school at Burns, it was quite a big program and then it died down. I’ve definitely got some big shoes to fill.”
Previously, Brittain was the band director at both North Wilkes Middle and North Wilkes High School which was two hours away from his hometown of Lawndale. He said that he didn’t have any intentions of leaving the North Wilkesboro area but home kept calling him. Brown had shared with him about his thoughts on potentially joining the Marine Corps Band. At first, Brittain said that he wasn’t interested in replacing Brown because he loved what he had going on in North Wilkes Middle and High schools and had bought a house. Then things happened in his family which made the decision easy to move back home.
“I needed to be here for grandparents that are getting old and Dad, who is getting a little down in health,” Brittain said. “My fiancé works in Shelby and I was working two hours away which was kind of tough. It’s turned into a blessing.”
Brown didn’t leave the band members without first preparing them for a new director.
“I think both Taylor and Richard (Helma) talked to the kids a lot about sticking it out through this transition,” Brittain said. “I think band directors are a little bit different to the kids than a classroom teacher so those transitions aren’t always easy. I think we’re better and stronger for it and Taylor left this program in great shape. It’s been easy on me, I just got to step in and press play. I hope it’s been as easy on the kids.”
Brittain has been working with the marching band on their show and drill routine since band camp over the summer.
“The heat is tough on them,”he said. “It’ll be a little easier when it cools down. We’ve got three movements to our show this year and they’ve already got the first two learned. It’s not perfect, we still have to go back and clean stuff up, but they can march and play the first two and they’ve memorized the third song.”
During the first home football game of the season which is scheduled for Friday, Brittain said that the goal was to be able to march and play the first movement but it ended up that they were able to do this by the end of band camp. He plans to do the first and second movement for this game and hopefully by the next home game, which is scheduled for Sept. 6, they’ll be able to do all three. The first competition is on Oct. 5 at North Lincoln High School with five more scheduled after that until the first weekend in November.
Like with athletic training, band members first go out on the field and do a stretching routine then they go into marching basics block where they work on marching fundamentals.
“We do a hybrid, straight legged marching routine,” Brittain said. “When their feet cross is the only time they can have a slight bend in the knee. When their foot is behind or in front of the other foot, they should have straight legs to make the marching look nice and tidy, but most importantly, so that the marching doesn’t affect their sound.”
Brittain isn’t alone in working with the band during their practices. Brittian Nichols is the elementary school music teacher at Battleground Elementary and the fall and winter color guard instructor. David Parsons is the West Lincoln Middle School band director and works with the percussion and runs the sound. Helma works with the brass instruments and marching techniques.
“It takes a lot of people to keep this moving,” Brittain said. “It’s not just me by myself and it never will be. A lot of people go into keeping this program going, but most of all it’s the kids and their hard work and dedication to the program.”
Once the marching basics block segment is over, band members pick up their instruments and Brittain goes up on top of a platform so that he can observe the band’s movements from that vantage point. He said he can hear sound better from there as well. During competitions, the judges are seated up in the press box for those reasons so during practice, Brittain is able to experience what the judges might see and hear.
This year’s marching band routine is entitled, “Día de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead). Día de los Muertos is a Mexican celebration and remembrance of family members who have passed.
“We’ve been focusing on the emotional side of that holiday and about how our music coincides with the celebration side of the holiday,” Brittain said. “The middle portion of our show is more of a remembrance. We’ve talked about the weight of that and the emotional ties of remembering loved ones who have gone on.”
This show has a deeper meaning than some that the band has done in the past, which Brittain said he likes and the band members are buying into it and playing with a lot of emotion, pride and passion.
“We’ve talked about when they perform how they can, through music, convey those emotions and expressions associated with that holiday and if we can make personal connections with family who have gone on, celebrating their lives,” he said.
When he first started working with band members at band camp, Brittain told the students that his three rules/goals of band, which he said will remain throughout the year and probably for many years to come, are, that they have to have fun, have pride and play with emotion and a lot of musicality to convey how much fun it is to be a part of a band. The second rule/goal is to work hard and “kick butt,” at football games, be they home or away, because the hard work will pay off. The last rule/goal is, what Brittain thinks is the most important, is to be a valuable part of the Rebel regiment.
“The kids have really bought into the family aspect,” he said. “For example, if you’re being lazy and not pulling your weight, or if you’re late for practice, you’re not being a valuable part of the family that we call ours.”