From the Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco to Halloween events at local elementary schools and many others, the Pinole Valley High School band makes community events a priority.
The Pinole (California) Valley High School Marching Band focuses on being a strong presence in the community. This effort has created a self-fulfilling cycle as community support fuels students’ drive to improve. For his hard work, director Erik Radkiewicz was honored to represent California as one of “50 Directors Who Make a Difference” by School Band and Orchestra Magazine in December 2016.
Halftime: What’s your musical and educational background?
Radkiewicz: My degree, Bachelor of Fine Arts, is in Guitar Performance … from the University of Arizona. I was doing some choral prep and some other things when I first started working for the [school] district [in 2000]. After about four years, I took over a K to 8 school, and then eight years ago I took over the high school.
Halftime: What are some areas of focus for your marching band?
Radkiewicz: [My predecessor,] Mr. Ed Nesmith … was more about playing in the community and that the kids ran the program. He wanted to make sure that we did all the community events like the tree lighting, the parade, basketball games, football games, [and] anytime there’s an event at the school.
We do an area festival as well … where all the Pinole schools … do a concert together in the gym. And I always make the kids do concert reviews. … You have fourth and fifth graders … who say, “… I can’t wait ’till I’m in high school, so I can play music like that!” And then the older kids review the concert [from] the little kids and go, “That was me eight years ago.” They come full circle. And then they realize the responsibility that they have.
Halftime: Why is it important for marching bands to be present in the community?
Radkiewicz: Not everybody always goes to the football games or the basketball games. … So what we try to do is let everybody get a chance to hear us as much as possible. … If they’re aware that we have this program, and people think we’re successful and appreciate what we do, that means we get more calls.
Most kids have a natural fascination with playing music and instruments. You really see some of the kids staring at the high school kids while they’re warming up, pointing and asking what it is. In some ways, it’s recruitment. In other ways, it’s just making sure that we keep ourselves out there, and people realize that, yes, we do have music at Pinole Valley.
Halftime: What has been your proudest moment with the band?
Radkiewicz: The thing that really makes me happy is when I see them after … some function that we played, and they go around and remind each other, “Hey, you sounded good. Nice job. Let’s work hard for the next performance that we have.”
Peer learning is a big thing in the band.
Halftime: You mentioned that the students run the program. What opportunities do they get?
Radkiewicz: The drum major charts the show, so they’re the ones in charge of making sure that … everybody’s in the right place, creating some of the stunts that we do, and those type of things.
Halftime: What have been some of the obstacles you’ve faced, and how have you overcome them?
Radkiewicz: I think the biggest obstacle we had was losing our elementary [band] programs about eight years ago, and we just got them back about four years ago. …
We had to realize that, no, we don’t have these kids coming in with the skills they did a few years ago, so now we’ve got to find a way to teach them fundamentals.
Halftime: What advice do you have for other marching band directors?
Radkiewicz: To not take it too seriously because it’s funny that it’s the most visible band, [and yet] the band director has, I think, the least amount of influence over [it] sometimes. Just have fun with it.
Halftime: What advice do you have for marching musicians?
Radkiewicz: Enjoy the process because I think a lot of kids sometimes feel like getting better is a chore, but if they actually enjoy the practice and the … work they put in, they’re gonna have a lot better time, and the performance is gonna be better.