Sweet music: New directors harmonize with BV band program

Tuesday, August 8, 2017
New high school band director Brad Nelsen (right) stands in front of the 2017-18 Berryville High School Marching Band after a day of rehearsing last week.
Photo by David Bell/Carroll County News

The Berryville High School band program is changing its tune this year under the leadership of its new directors.

Brad Nelsen, the new high school band director, said his goal this year is to create a multifaceted band program that both entertains crowds and performs well at competitions.

“I’ve studied a lot of band history, and, from the very beginning of our institution, we are designed to entertain,” Nelsen said. “Lately in the competitive circuit, most shows are no longer entertaining because they are designed to demonstrate what a band can and can’t do. They’re not designed to entertain.”

Many competitive shows demonstrate how fast a band can play or march, he said, which is perfect for judges. To a crowd, however, it’s boring, he said.

“I’m here to play great music. It’s my belief we can create a show that will make the crowd go nuts and still win at competitions,” Nelsen said. “I teach band and direct band to play great music. The awards are a byproduct of that philosophy. They happen because we’re great at what we do.”

Helping Nelsen with that philosophy will be new middle band director and assistant band director Hayley Watson.

“The competitive marching band scene is important. I’m good at it, and Hayley is even better at it,” he said. “Competitions are her thing. That’s what she loves to do, which is good because I need that in my program.”

This year’s show will be called “Mambo No. 17,” Nelsen said, and comprises four pieces. The opener will be “Mambo No. 5” by Lou Bega, combined directly with the next piece, “Speak Up Mambo” by Manhattan Transfer. The middle piece will be “Beautiful Maria of My Soul” from the movie “The Mambo Kings,” he said, and the closer will be “Mambo” from “West Side Story.”

“I took the idea of the mambo genre and kind of ran with it. I found different areas of mambo I could combine together,” Nelsen said. “The title of the show is a play on ‘Mambo No. 5.’ It’s called ‘Mambo No. 17’ because it’s 2017.”

He continued, “It starts with ‘Mambo No. 5’ because everybody and their grandmother knows that tune. They’ve heard it. It’s designed to draw the crowd in.”

Nelsen said he will also be emphasizing the stand tunes this year, noting that they will feature all new music this year.

“I have redone the entire book. There are at least 13 or 14 new pieces. It’s completely all-new music,” he said. “We’re working on making this stuff sound good rather than just getting a couple pep tunes ready and doing them on repeat. I want the crowd going nuts and loving us.”

The marching season will also feature a pre-concert every Friday about an hour before the football game starts, he said, as well as some post-game music.

“The pre-concert will be different music every Friday night. It will be something new,” Nelsen said. “I’m also working on structuring what I call a ‘march down,’ which is a miniature parade into the stadium. We will play during that and have some dance routines, too.”

The idea for the “march down” came from the University of Nebraska, he said.

“I stole that from Nebraska because I loved it, and the crowd loves it,” Nelsen said. “The drumline, which I call the battery, will be out in the parking lot when people are coming into the stadium, and they’re going to play their own little concert, too.”

Another change for the band program this year, he said, is that the year will not be broken into marching season and symphonic season. The reason for the change, he said, is that students need to know how to play before they move on the field, and the symphonic setting is where that education takes place.

“The goal is for marching band to eventually be an extracurricular activity entirely,” Nelsen said, “and to remove it completely from the school year. That’s not happening this year, but we’re making a stride toward that change.”

He said he sees marching band as a sport and believes it needs to be run like a sports team, with rehearsal taking place after school.

“In our symphonic setting, the emphasis is technique. It’s not what you play. It’s how you play it,” he said. “If I can train you to play well, it doesn’t matter what I put in front of you. You can play it as long as your training is solid.”

Nelsen continued, “In marching band, we spend the majority of our time cleaning, not learning. The symphonic setting is where we learn. Think about if a math teacher spent four and a half months on addition and then went straight to Algebra II and skipped everything in between. I can’t do that. I need my kids in the symphonic setting all year.”

While the unique format could fail, he said he believes it is an important change.

“We want to push kids as far as they can go. We want to send kids to All-Region and All-State and make a tradition of that,” Nelsen said. “Maintaining the symphonic setting throughout the marching season is what’s going to help create that.”

Nelsen recently graduated with a master’s degree in wind conducting from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. During his nationwide job search, he said he had three criteria for a directing position: creative control, a band program that was not too well established and funding for the program.

“Berryville was well established, but it had waned a bit,” he said. “That’s what made it qualify for me. I didn’t want to step into an award-winning program. I didn’t want to come in and drive the car. I wanted to build the car.”

Nelsen said he was impressed by Berryville High School because the administration knew what they were looking for in a band director and were the first ones who wanted to see him teach.

“This was the first interview in the country where that happened. It was probably my 20th or 23rd interview that I had done for a band director position,” he said, “and it was the first one where they actually wanted to see me work.”

After being hired, Nelsen said he looked through a list of applicants for the assistant band director position and was most impressed with Watson.

“We lined up on a lot of things, and we’re also contrary on a lot of things, which is important,” he said. “I don’t want another me. I want someone who is different. They went with my decision and hired Hayley, and it’s been going well so far.”

Even more impressive than the high school are its students, he said.

“My compliments to Berryville as a town because these kids are unbelievable,” Nelsen said. “I’m shocked at how hard they work. The schedule we’re doing right now is more rigorous than it was last year, but they’re here and they’re great. My compliments to Berryville for raising a great set of kids. I’m blown away by how hard these kids work.”

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