Sunday, November 6, 2011

Strike Up The Band!, For New Times' Sake

(From today's Times in Shreveport and News-Star in Monroe.)

The tradition-rich Haynesville and Homer football teams are in the playoffs again this year, but the atmosphere will lack a familiar ring.

No marching bands.

Hear that? They’re not playing our song.

Small-town high school marching bands are going the way of the Notre Dam box, the wishbone formation, Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie. Anybody around here play the baritone sax?

Student apathy is to blame, perhaps? Parents who don’t see the point? The lack of a leader? Maybe it’s human nature: few of us miss a good thing until it’s gone.

Whatever the cause, the result is no band. Claiborne Academy lost its band more than a decade ago. Then Haynesville. And this year, the Homer Pelicans have played football but not the snare, tuba or clarinet.

They tried. Last year’s Homer Band had 15 members, and most of those were from the junior high. Even though the band director came out of retirement to work part-time, well, you can’t get blood out of a turnip or a high school marching band out of less than two dozen students.

So officially, the Homer Pelicans Marching Band is on break.

“It’s not totally eliminated,” said parish superintendent Dr. Janice Williams. “It’s suspended until student interest picks up. If we had student involvement, we’d have a band. It the students want a band, they can have a band.”

A petition circulated briefly in August once word got out that the band had, at least for now, disbanded. Williams has heard no more about it though, and the deafness was never more evident than during September’s reprisal of the storied Homer-Haynesville football series.

“Not a band to be seen,” she said. “They played music on the P.A., but band spirit is a lot different than just music.”


In August I’d read with dismay a letter to the editor in “The Guardian-Journal,” my very favorite Claiborne Parish newspaper.

“When you consider that probably 40 percent of the student body participated in the band programs in the ’50s and ’60s,” wrote Bobby Johnson, Homer High Class of 1965, “there must have been something special happening.”

And there was. The band, 130 members strong, even went to Mardi Gras in New Orleans back then, the biggest outfit in the whole parade. They broke into two groups and came home with first and second places, two trophies, and double the prize money.

“We’d march from Homer High down Dutchtown Road to where it intersects with Clear Lake – that’s got to be more than three miles ’round trip,” said Dr. Charlie Roberts, president and CEO of the LSU Alumni Association today, but a Homer High grad, music teacher and band director back in the day. “Kids want to talk and play and horse around, but it’s hard to do that when you’re marching and blowing a horn. They loved the exercise though. And we were good.”

As you’d build a football team, Roberts recruited, getting to know the kids when they were in elementary school. He formed a club of dedicated band parents who fund-raised to reward the band with leather jackets.

“It takes more than money,” said Roberts, who knows about modern distractions; his three grandchildren aren’t band folk. “But I believe you could still build it back. It’ll take somebody special who’s willing to start with nothing.”

Then it could really be something…

“For those of us who experienced it, enjoyed and learned from it,” Johnson wrote in August, “we can only hope that it will come again.”