Members of Florida A&M’s Marching “100” got a sample of what potential band directors had to offer last week.
The Search Committee for Marching Director and Pep Bands interviewed four possible replacements for former band director Julian White, who stepped down earlier this year after the band’s hazing incident.
Friday’s interviewee was Shelby Chipman, associate director of bands at FAMU; Thursday was Jorim Reid, band director at North Carolina Central University; Wednesday was Gregory Drane, assistant director of athletic bands at Penn State University; and Tuesday was Richard Beckford, Blanche Ely High School band director.
Each candidate went through a daylong interview process with the search committee and directed the band at its practice from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.
Beckford conducts his own summer band camp and has more than 20 years of experience directing bands.
“From the day I heard of the Marching ‘100’ – November 4, 1982 – I always wanted to be a part of the success and the legacy of the ‘100.’”
Band members questioned whether the same traditions from previous years would be carried on.
“One tradition that cannot continue to exist is the tradition of hazing,” Beckford said. “If it does, it will lead to the destruction of the bridges that Dr. (William P.) Foster built.”
Some band members are concerned with Beckford’s ability to adjust to teaching college-aged adults.
“When students say, ‘I have to go,’ they literally can get in their car and leave,” said Benjamin Eubank, a senior music education student from Miami who has been a band member since 2007.
Lindsey Sargeant, a professor of music and Marching “100” arranger, expressed his full confidence in Beckford.
“He’s never been on a college level, but his work with his high school band has been very impressive,” Sargeant said. “I think that he will do a wonderful job.”
Beckford was also a member of the Marching “100.” However, officials do not believe this will affect his stance on hazing.
“None of that has anything to do with whoever is the next band director because it’s going to be their responsibility,” Sargeant said. “I don’t think him being in the band has any effect whatsoever.”
Drane received his bachelor’s in music education and music performance from Bethune-Cookman University and his master’s in music education from Penn State. With the university’s longtime assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s public sexual abuse conviction, Drane is no stranger to university controversy.
“Both situations are events that most of us have no control over,” Drane said. “The media has pointed us all out to be the bad guys.”
Drane led the “100” in an hourlong rehearsal, going over classics, rearranging notes and encouraging the band members to use the talent that makes them so great.
Casey Nelson, a senior electronic engineering technology and music industry student from Savannah, is a member of the “100” and had the opportunity to play for Drane during his session.
“He stood out to me,” Nelson said. “Especially his energy and knowing what he was getting himself into coming from Penn State.”
Given the fact that Drane is the only candidate who is not a FAMU alumnus, the preservation of FAMU’s tradition is a concern for some band members.
“We’re going to start with keeping our tradition of excellence because that is the most important thing,” Drane said. “My director once told me tradition was once a new idea. There are some traditions we’re going to maintain and some new ones we’re going to start.”
Reid believes he is the best candidate in wake of FAMU’s scandal involving the hazing death of Robert Champion.
“If they’re wanting someone that can be creative and solve problems and find solutions and can be versatile and work with helping out and continuing the positive parts of Dr. Foster’s legacy, then I’ll be a good choice in assisting the band and music department,” Reid said.
Reid was a member of the Marching “100” in the late ‘90s and served as drum major.
Band members had mixed emotions about the candidate.
“Mr. Reid was cool,” said Jean Vilpin, a freshman music student from Miami Beach. “He was very professional.”
Another band member, Asa Gayle, a senior music education student from Orlando, had reservations.
“He seemed kind of nervous or kind of holding back,” Gayle said.
Chipman was the last candidate to be interviewed. He sat through an almost five-hour interview during which he laid out his plan for the future of the famed marching band. He emphasized enforcing the positive character of the band to better its reputation and enhance recruitment.
“My general mission, values … decisions will be centered around moving forward to being very mindful of your character because your character represents who you are,” Chipman said.
Chipman will work on restoring trust by involving parents in band camps, recruiting and practices.
Not too many people seemed to be concerned with the fact that Chipman was part of the band staff for 14 years. However, several students said that should not reflect negatively on the university or Chipman.
“I firmly believe in zero tolerance on hazing,” Chipman said. “I have given workshops at the start of the year on the principles of what we should stand for.”
The support from faculty and band members seemed to be more than noticeable as he took to the podium to practice with band members for the second part of his interview process. The band room, filled with spectators and a panel of judges, exploded with applause as Chipman walked into the room.
“I think he pretty much established himself today,” said Brandon Cunningham, a senior music industry student from West Palm Beach and band president. “I feel he would be more interactive with the ‘100’ and the music department in general.”
Calvin Morris Jr. has been in the band for five years, and he also feels that the band did well under Chipman’s direction Friday.
“I believe we did what we usually do, and it was a very good job,” Morris said. “He had very good control over the band and over the sound, and he knows what the FAMU sound is – what the Marching ‘100’ sound is – what we are achieving. He did a good job making that happen.”
The decision is now in the hands of the search committee.
“I think the band deserves a director who is a true leader and demonstrates strong skills in refining one’s character, academics, leadership, musicianship, marching and comprehensive individual excellence,” Cunningham said.
Kenneth Johnson, a junior English education student and band member, said each candidate brought something different to the table.
“I feel like each candidate has done a great job,” Johnson said. “It’s a lot of pressure to come into the FAMU band room.”
FAMU can expect a decision from the search committee this month.
This article was written by News Editor Evan Miles, Staff Writer Rabia Muhammed and Correspondents Alexis Gary and Kee-Shawn Smith.