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Dudley High’s marching season is hard work

by Lee Adams

In the band room at Dudley High School drum majors Matthew Goodman and Justin Holiday take turns standing on chairs and leading the band through a series of warm ups. The high-walled cinder block room is packed with students dressed in white T-shirts, blue shorts and black combat boots. Every instrument except for percussion is represented in the room ‘— the drum line is outside running through cadences.

There’s not a smile on any face; the room is solemn and the drum majors keep everyone under watchful eye, like hawks watching a family of rabbits and waiting for a false move.

Goodman addresses the group: ‘“Make sure you wash yourself,’” he tells them. ‘“Last week in the stands I smelled something and we don’t need that, seriously.’”

It sounds comical, but no one so much as cracks a smile and not a sound is made. Then he leads them in the National Anthem. As the song crescendos the sound is almost deafening, especially when standing in the front of the room. As the band reaches rests in the song the sound echoes on for several seconds leading to a silence that’s just as deafening as the fortissimo.

Band Director Brannon Bynum is in the music office ordering cymbals from the Brook May’s Music Group on his computer screen. The drumline is in bad need of crash cymbals; many are badly broken and a few players may have to borrow some for tomorrow night’s game. The band has been trying to raise money through fundraisers and the booster club for much-needed equipment.

Back in the band room the ensemble is rehearsing another number, but the tuba section is dragging. The drum majors are getting frustrated and Bynum has wandered out of his office and is frowning at the section from the sidelines.

‘“Man, why ya’ll draggin’?’” section leader Lakeisha Reynolds asks out of frustration.

‘“Tubas, outside ‘— now!’” Bynum says sternly and the section slips out through the back door. Out in back of the school Bynum talks to the group very directly. He tells one student that he’s going to have to lose the attitude and realize who’s in charge.

‘“The chain of command is like this’… me, then my drum majors, then her,’” he says to the student while pointing to Reynolds. ‘“And you fall somewhere under that.’”

He goes on to tell him he should know his music by now and that if he’d practiced his scales the notes would make sense to him. Then he lets them go back inside.

The drum section comes in, too, to rehearse with the rest of the band. The sound nearly takes off the roof as the now cramped room is playing at full force, but the tubas are on top of their game. Bynum peruses the rows and notices a trumpeter who’s not playing his part. He stops the band and faces the student, confronting him about not knowing his music.

‘“You’d better learn your part,’” he tells the student while nearby band members mumble in agreement.

‘“There’ll be no scapegoating this year.’”

The band was supposed to go outside for rehearsal around 5:30, but it’s six o’clock now and they’re still in the band room. Finally they’re told to line up behind the building.

Quickly hurrying outside and taking their places, they stand still and straight-faced awaiting command. A count is given and the group shouts in unison. But no sooner do they turn the corner than Goodman and Holiday stop them and tell them to hit the ground. The group was out of step, and now they wait propped up on hands and toes. Goodman walks amongst the ranks sternly and commands them to do pushups. The group counts in unison as if they are military cadets in training. Goodson reprimands them some more. Then more pushups are ordered. At last they are told to line up again and for a second time they begin the long march to the football stadium.

At the stadium they go halfway around the track and then file into the stands where they’ll take their places at tomorrow night’s game. They won’t be performing a half-time show tomorrow night, there’s still work to be done.

It’s tough being a marching Panther. There’s practice, discipline and the three-hour practice after school every day that has students sweating even before they leave the band room. But it’s an honor to march, and there’s a pride that comes from performing well on the field on a Friday night.

James B. Dudley, the man for whom the school is named, is quoted as saying: ‘“The true status of a school can be measured by the success of its students.’”

Dudley, born a slave in Wilmington in 1859, was instrumental in the success of A&T University in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Bynum himself is one of those success stories, and perhaps that’s why he’s pushing others so hard to be their best. Bynum graduated from Dudley High School in 1997 and went on to obtain a degree in music education from A&T in 2002. While attending college he worked as a student teacher at Dudley, arranging and writing music for half-time shows.

Bryan Milsap had replaced Dudley’s long-time first band director, James D. Morgan Jr., after Morgan had retired. (Morgan passed away on Aug. 1. The high school band performed at his funeral.) Milsap soon accepted the position of director of bands at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, and Bynum was left to fill in. Though the school interviewed several potential bandleaders, the parents were set on Bynum and made the push to get him hired. The 26 year old sees himself as fortunate to be teaching at his alma mater, something that is a rare opportunity for most would-be band directors.

‘“I was blessed to be in the right place at the right time,’” he says humbly.

Since his hiring Bynum has worked to grow the band and its supporters as interest had waned since the departure of Morgan and then Milsap. With fundraising a high priority this year Bynum has finally been able to purchase a few of the much-needed items for the band, like the cymbals. His ultimate vision, he says, is to help establish an endowment for the arts at Dudley.

Bynum plans to take the band to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in St. Petersberg, Fla., to perform their high-step style marching for conference-goers (for all you white people who don’t know what high-step is, go rent the movie Drumline).

‘“It’s one of my favorite trips,’” Bynum says of the conference, where Florida A&M University and Bethune Cookman College will also be exhibiting.

To comment on this story, email Lee Adams at lee@yesweekly.com.

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