How do you build one of the nation’s top high school band programs? It takes a great team and a ton of patience, according to Jay Webb, director of bands at Avon High School. Halftime Magazine got in touch with Webb to find out how he led his band to become this year’s Bands of America Grand Nationals champion.
This year’s Bands of America (BOA) Grand Nationals champion, the Avon (Ind.) Marching Black and Gold, also made history by earning the highest score on record, a 97.75. Director of Bands Jay Webb discusses this feat and the years of consistent training and quality that led up to it.
Halftime: Why did you decide to become a director?
Webb: Since I was in 7th grade, I had wanted to be a band director. I shifted around and did different things, and I was teaching drum corps. Once I realized I needed a better job than that, I went to college at the age of 24 and finished at age 29. I’ve been involved with the drum corps activity since I was 13. I’ve taught a lot of bands around Indiana, and I’ve been at Avon now for 16 years.
Halftime: To what do you attribute your band’s recent success?
Webb: Well we’ve been successful for quite a while. We were second [at Grand Nationals] last year and have been in the top seven for the last four or five years. We’ve won seven Indiana state championships.
I have one of the best staffs in the country; a lot of drum corps would be jealous of my staff. We have great writers and a community of parents and administrators that support the activity. We have one of the best facilities in the country and a ton of resources at our disposal; all those things go into making a program successful.
Halftime: How is the band this year different than past years?
Webb: The big difference is that this is the first year that we didn’t win the state championship; we lost by one-tenth. Our seniors had never lost a state championship, so it was a lot of pressure. When they came up short by one-tenth of a point, their attitude really changed, but they never gave up for a second, and we kind of crescendoed into our finale.
The last day of our season was the best day of the year. It was cold and rainy; we were out practicing in 33-degree weather for several days, and no one complained or said a word. It culminated with that Saturday being the best performance of our program’s career.
Halftime: What did you say to your band before the finals?
Webb: I don’t really remember but I’m sure it was something like, “You’re prepared, and you should have all the confidence in the world.”
We did a lot of training regarding nutrition. I brought in a nutritionist who has worked with Olympians, and we talked a lot about nutrition for performance. On the actual day we start practicing at 7 a.m., and our fi nal performance was at about 10 p.m. We felt nutrition was important because last year we just ran out of gas. They were excited during the warm-up, and they weren’t tired and sleepy like the years before. We really felt that the kids were as fi red up as they really ever are even though it was 10 at night. We were at hour 15 of our day already.
Halftime: How has the band managed to maintain such a level of success? What’s the secret?
Webb: I don’t think it’s a secret. Our core group of instructors and designers have been together for nine or 10 years. We’ve built up an expectation with the students and parents that this is what being in band is like and we need a certain level of fundraising to reach it.
When I go recruit the students, I tell them that marching band is not always easy and it’s not always fun, but by the time it’s over, you’ll know it’s the truth, and you’ll have a great experience. It’s like a minilife with ups and downs and learning to deal with fellow students and friends and even people you don’t like, coming together for one goal and one mission. Even when we don’t have competitive success on the field, the students have an incredible journey. Even when we were building up the program in the 90’s, I never felt like my band was a loser just because they didn’t win a show. I firmly believe that that’s part of the learning aspect and what teaching is truly about.
Halftime: What do you want kids to learn from marching band?
Webb: The main thing is that they learn about themselves and start to see themselves in a light that makes them grow up, makes them mature and understand how they fi t into the realm of the whole and that they have to give up some of their personal issues. The older they get, the more they realize they need to sacrifice for those who are less experienced.
Being in marching band or drum corps is like experiencing a mini-lifetime. You start off as a neophyte, inexperienced, and then by the end, you’re the one who’s doing the teaching and passing down your legacy and your efforts. You go through these incredible highs and lows where you don’t want to be there or you’re sick or injured. The kids go through these incredible experiences that teach them about themselves more than learning a scale or learning to march eight to five. As they go to college, many of them can leave knowing how to deal with any experience, and that’s what I’m most proud of. We’re really not teaching music here; we’re teaching kids.
Halftime: Do you have any advice for other directors?
Webb: I’ve learned from some great band directors over the years and have had some great mentorship. The biggest thing I learned from Tom Dirks, former band director of Center Grove High School for many years, is to put great people around you and let them be good at what they do. Keep the boat steady and trust the people that work with you.
Halftime: Who/what inspires you?
Webb: Well I think that watching the light come on in a kid’s eyes. When you see that happen, and they start to get it, no matter what it is, that’s inspirational to me.
Halftime: What has being a band director taught you?
Webb: Patience—that everyone is capable of succeeding, and the one thing that can turn a kid around is patience and allowing them to grow into their abilities. Patience in letting young staff people to develop and learn as teachers, patience to allow the administrators to do what they do but also guide them into what we need for the program, patience in letting parents participate and help us get what we need to succeed. Patience is just the number one thing I’ve learned in all these years.
Note from the Editor: You can find more questions and answers from Jay Webb at www.halftimemag.com. Click on “Web Exclusives,” then “Encore! Encore! Magazine Extras.”
About the Author
Elizabeth Geli is an editorial intern at Halftime Magazine. She is currently a senior majoring in print journalism at the University of Southern California. She began playing flute 11 years ago in her hometown of Placentia, Calif. Now she plays in the USC Trojan Marching Band and has supported the teams at back-to-back-to back Rose Bowls, the NCAA basketball tournament and as many other games as possible. She also serves as the band librarian.