2017 National Band Director of the Year: Emily McNeil

2017 National Band Director of the Year

Member Spotlight: Emily McNeil

By NAfME Member Lori Schwartz Reichl

This article originally appeared in the October 2017 Teaching Music.

“This year’s recipient of the National Band Director of the Year Award gives a lot of care to her program.” These were the first words high school band director Emily McNeil heard echoing from the stage while sitting in the audience at the United States Army All-American Bowl Awards Ceremony. She was attending the ceremony as a participant in the Band Director Academy this past January in San Antonio, Texas. Not knowing who would receive this prestigious award, McNeil quickly figured out it could be her, as there were very few women present. To her astonishment, the President of NAfME, Denese Odegaard, proceeded to recognize the winner by reading McNeil’s biography to the audience. McNeil says, “I was shocked to be honored as the awards’ recipient.” She was recognized on stage with a plaque and celebrated with memorable words about her teaching career.

Member Spotlight: Band Director of the Year
NAfME President Denese Odegaard presents the award to Emily McNeil.


Emily McNeil works to inspire students while improving the quality of her ensembles.

In March 2009, Emily McNeil was hired as the fourth band director during the 2008–2009 school year at East Rowan High School in Granite Quarry, North Carolina. She realized the pressure this particular situation brought to the students, community, and her. McNeil’s goals for the band program were simple: She hoped to care for the students, inspire them to audition for more honor bands, and build a high-quality program. Nine years later, she continues this progress by maintaining a strong relationship with the middle school band director and encouraging the younger musicians to participate in the high school band program.

Member Spotlight: Band Director of the Year
Photo by Kim Howard.


The band program at East Rowan High School consists of the Concert Band, Jazz Band, Marching Band, Wind Ensemble, and 75 energetic members. McNeil was present at the bowl events in San Antonio because her student, Katie Howard, was performing on trumpet in the U.S. Army All-American Marching Band (USAAAMB). McNeil proudly states that during her tenure, “In addition to Katie, East Rowan has had two previous students and one current student selected as USAAAMB members.” The program continues to flourish under McNeil’s directorship, and along with the annual performances and trips she plans for the band, the Wind Ensemble has earned consecutive superior ratings in the district’s music performance assessments for the past several years.

“I see my strengths as an educator as caring for each individual student and their successes as a growing adult—not just as a musician.”

Member Spotlight: Band Director of the Year
Emily McNeil, Band Director, East Rowan High School, Granite Quarry, North Carolina. Headshot courtesy of Emily McNeil.

McNeil says, “I see my strengths as an educator as caring for each individual student and their successes as a growing adult—not just as a musician.” She encourages students to reach their full musical potential by auditioning for as many ensembles as possible, both in and out of school, and she is thrilled when former students return to support the band program and attend a performance. These former students are often in awe of how the program continues to grow. McNeil says, “I also find it significant when former students recall a musical selection they performed with the band and can recall exactly how the music made them feel.”

When she is not busy with music activities, McNeil enjoys watching baseball games with her husband, John, as well as cheering on the team he coaches. She also enjoys running, fishing, and traveling, and looks forward to another inspiring year of making musical memories with her students.

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