The Harlem High School Bulldog Band will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a new director and a little bit of funk.
Members of the Harlem High School Bulldog Band practice at the school. The 115-member band had its beginning 50 years ago, when the Columbia County School Board enlisted Harvard graduate F.C. Schley to organize a school band. Under new director Stacey Wade, the band will perform at the football team's first game Friday.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
When former band director Bob Willing retired at the end of the past school year, Stacey Wade took the helm and will lead the 115-member band onto the field for its first game Friday to some funky sounds.
"For our half-time show, we are doing music from Earth, Wind and Fire," said Wade, adding that in the past the band performed more traditional music such as selections from Phantom of the Opera. "I wanted to do something a little bit more mainstream. Something not only the kids will recognize and enjoy, but that the audience would recognize and enjoy."
The band began 50 years ago, when the Columbia County School Board enlist-ed Harvard graduate F.C. Schley to organize a band at the school, according to the archives of The Columbia County News-Times. During that first year, 216 students signed up for band instruction.
The band will perform the first show of their 50th season at the football team's first game at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Evans High School. The band will play In the Stone, After the Love Has Gone, Got To Get You Into My Life and a medley of Getaway and September.
Harlem High School band member Liz Tucker tries to keep cool during band practice.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"The kids love it," Wade said, adding that the show's drill is a little more difficult than in previous years. "It's an exciting show. It's kind of a change of pace for those guys. I think they have kind of been hungry for this style of show."
Students lead the way
In fact, the students chose the show music, but it didn't take much to get Wade on board, he said.
Lauren Thompson is beginning her second season as the band's field commander and is pleased with the music selections and more complicated show formations.
"The music is technically more difficult, but every-body loves it so much that they are willing to put in the extra effort to make it sound really good," Thompson said. "Everybody is really excited about it."
Practice began July 18 with two weeks of band camp. On Aug. 4, Wade led the band's first practice of the official school year (classes began the day before). As he tapped out the beat in the middle of the school's sweltering parking lot, band members swirled and moved as they ran through the opening number. He shouted reminders and encouragement.
Director Stacy Wade instructs the band during practice. He says he wants to bring "some freshness" to the music and the social aspect of the band.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Senior Cory Hall has played percussion in the band for all of his high school years. He said the difference between previous years and this one is Wade's stronger emphasis on marching.
Redcoats and Bulldogs
Wade has taught music for 16 years, the past four at Langley-Bath-Clearwater Middle School in Aiken County. As a saxophone player, like all three other lead band directors in the county, Wade marched in the University of Georgia's Redcoat Band, he said.
Alda Wilmoth, Harlem Middle School band director, said Wade's organized and calm way of presenting ideas to his students encourages them to work hard and do well.
"He's picking up where Mr. Willing left off, and he's running with it," Wilmoth said.
But it's not just the music selection Wade plans to revamp. Though Wade said nothing was wrong with the band program before, he said there's always room for growth, and he wants Harlem's band program to be viewed in the same light as the other three programs in the county.
Meeting the challenge
That effort began the first day of band camp, when he began counting the days to the face-off with the Evans band at half-time.
"I dearly love those guys over there (at Evans), and we are all very good friends," Wade said. "But that's the program in the county that has for the longest time carried the most respect, and Reid (Hall) is carrying the torch very well over there. The band is really top rate.
"I wanted to set the tone immediately that that is what we are gunning for. We can't go in there the first game and be better and bigger. But we can go in and make a really really loud statement."
As the population of Harlem is expected to explode in the next few years, Wade hopes that band membership also will grow.
In the next five years, Wade said, he hopes for a band between 150 and 180 members strong, he said.
Wade said that if future students respond to him as well and work as hard as his current students, reaching their goals will be a snap.
Even though Wade is devoted to his band (he can't hum or drum the show tunes out of his head), it's not all about the notes, which strengthens the band, he said.
"I'm trying to not only work on the musical aspects and bring some freshness to that; I'm also trying to focus on the more social aspects of being in the band and getting everyone together," Wade said. "Doing things other than just academic music and trying to create an atmosphere of friendship and fellowship."
Like the two previous band directors, Wade said he'd like to eventually retire from Harlem High School.
"I have to believe that it's a place I'll want to stay," he said. "And so far, based on my experiences, it is definitely, definitely a great place. The kids have been absolutely great to work with so far."
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