Six years ago, Kathleen G. Jacoby took the reins of the Herndon (Virginia) High School instrumental program, and quickly had to find her way.
“The band director I replaced had been here 30 years and it was very difficult to replace a legend,” Jacoby said in the Herndon band room, which is filled with trophies. She was 26 years old at the time. Prior to coming to Herndon, Jacoby spent four years as the Director of Bands at Courtland High School in Spotsylvania County, Virginia.
“But the Herndon community was so supportive and they wanted to make sure we would maintain traditions here at the high school. A strong band parent’s organization was already in place. They were all very welcoming. It was a smooth, well-oiled machine.”
The band’s nickname is the “Pride of Herndon.” The Herndon High School Band has been a part of Northern Virginia since 1947. The oldest established high school band in Fairfax County, it was born when parents and supporters convinced Vladamir Johnson, a part-time music teacher from Washington, D.C., to rehearse a group of fledgling musicians. With about 23,000 residents, Herndon is about 25 miles west of Washington, DC.
The Herndon program served as a model for the instrumental groups later formed in Fairfax County schools.
Jacoby said, “Two years ago we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the school. We put on a big concert, and brought back the past three band directors. Richard Bergman, the band director before me, conducted an alumni band and we played a piece from every decade.”
Jacoby said “People came out and they brought photographs and told stories, and we had old band uniforms on display. It was just amazing, how many people wanted to participate.”
Getting it Right for Fall
As appreciative as Jacoby is for the past support, she is focused on her work in the 2013–2014 school year. In late August she took a break from band camp drills to talk about the year ahead.
She leads more than 200 instrumentalists in Marching Band, Wind Ensemble, Symphonic Band and Jazz Band. She also teaches AP Music Theory.
Bob Thurston’s new arrangement of Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” and Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo & Juliet” is the basis for the Herndon’s halftime performance this fall. It’s called “Star-Crossed.” Thurston is chief composer-arranger for the United States Air Force Band.
During band camp, students divide their rehearsal time between practicing the music program in the school auditorium and drilling in parking lot next to the football field.
Jacoby said students get their music ahead of time so they can practice during the summer, but added: “They don’t really have a feel for the music until they hear how their part works with the other parts of the arrangement.”
Taking Their Show on the Road
On December 7, the “Pride of Herndon” will be the pride of Virginia, too. The band was selected by the U.S. Congress and the Marine Corps Marching Band as the Virginia representative to the 2013 Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The Herndon band will be Virginia’s official “ambassador” to the parade. Herndon supporters and students are working to raise money to offset the cost of the student trip to Honolulu. Ongoing Fundraisers have included a bingo party, glow necklace sales and yogurt shop purchases.
The band earned a score of “1” from every judge at the 2012 Virginia Band and Orchestra Association’s Marching Band Assessment — one of only five groups from the state’s Northeast division to do so. Bands are assessed on music, visuals and other factors.
A Singular Student Honor
One of her band students brought another recent accolade to the band. Blake Morgan was selected as the drum major for the 2014 U.S. Army All-American Marching Band (USAAAMB), which will perform at the All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas, on January 4, 2014.
Morgan, she said, had been working towards band participation since grade school and was a leader in the Herndon Middle School Band, which feeds into the high school. It is the only middle school marching band in Fairfax County. After a stringent audition process, he was named drum major of the high school band in his junior year.
“His fellow students just respond to him,” Jacoby said, of rising senior. He conducted a performance that was recorded to submit as an audition for the USAAAMB. “He has very strong leadership skills,”
With that, she headed out to another rehearsal of the “Star-Crossed” program, adding with a smile, “We have a very busy school year ahead.”
Photos by Roz Fehr
Roz Fehr, NAfME Managing Editor for News, August 30, 2013. © National Association for Music Education