With a contract starting July 1, Lee Collins’ first official mission as Statesboro High School’s new band director will be to escort the band to Washington, D.C., to perform in the National Independence Day Parade.
But as the school year wraps up this week, Collins plans to be on campus daily. While learning about the band from departing director Joe Ferguson, Collins is being introduced to the current members. Collins is also visiting Langston Chapel Middle School and William James Middle School, meeting eighth-graders who will soon step up to the SHS Blue Devils Marching Band.
About 60 people, including band families as well as teachers, turned out for a meet-and-greet with Collins in the Statesboro High cafeteria Monday evening. After an introduction from Principal Marty Waters, Collins put on his own brief show, including slides and a video segment.
He outlined his vision, including goals for marching band, concert band and small ensembles.
Beyond the Independence Day Parade trip, Collins is planning band camps for the drum line and color guard July 10-13, for rookies July 13, and for the entire band July 16-20.
Resembling a movie preview, one segment of his presentation opened with a thunderclap to announce this fall’s marching show, which will mark the 25th anniversary of Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album.
Much longer-term, Collins is setting a goal for the band to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York within eight years. Waters also has identified the Macy’s parade as a mark of higher recognition to shoot for.
Meanwhile, Collins hopes to see the concert band perform three concerts each year, do well in festival evaluations and mount a spring performance tour for middle and elementary schools.
As for small ensembles, he wants to continue the steel drum — or steel pan — band Ferguson started and also to lead chamber music ensembles and an electronic performance ensemble and develop a new jazz band. Tattnall County and Statesboro have the area’s only high school steel drum ensembles, and Collins and Ferguson got to know each other through their work with steel drums.
In March, Collins led the Tattnall County High School Band through a performance in Disney’s Magic Kingdom Parade. As of last week, he had spent his entire 13-year career at Tattnall, where his marching band secured invitations to perform in Disney’s Epcot Parade in 2004 and Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2008. The band won overall superior ratings in the Panama City, Fla., Festival of Champions in 2001 and 2002, and has since racked up superior marks and best-in-class trophies in smaller festivals and competitions.
The thing Collins says he most hopes to accomplish as a band teacher, however, is something else.
“The most important thing is to instill a love of music in the kids and make sure they have a great time doing it, because music is something they can do for the rest of their lives,” he said.
Born in Springfield, Ohio, Collins grew up in Jacksonville, Fla. He started learning the clarinet in sixth grade, briefly marched with trumpet, and ended up playing trombone in the band at Nathan Bedford Forest High School in Jacksonville.
He received a bachelor’s degree in music education from Valdosta State University in 1999 and a Master of Music with an emphasis in music technology from Georgia Southern University in 2009.
While working at Tattnall County High, he said, he kept his eye on Statesboro High and its band. Having grown some since he started, Tattnall’s marching band is half the size of Statesboro’s, with about 65 marchers compared to the Blue Devils’ 130. Overall, Collins did see about 130 TCHS students each week, he said, in several music classes.
“I’ve had a draw to Statesboro for the last 10 years, and every time it’s opened up I’ve had something in my life that didn’t allow it to happen,” Collins said. “And then this year when it opened up, I knew it was the right time for my life, and I thought this was where I needed to be.”
With the knowledge of music technology that Collins gained for his master’s degree, he and Principal Waters also plan to introduce a music technology course at Statesboro High. Waters explained that the 2012-13 course will be part of a “dual class,” including a percussion class for ensembles such as the steel pan band as its other element.
“But at the same time we’ll have 15 Mac computers so that he’ll have a group of kids there who can learn to compose, to splice music and also run the audiovisual for the auditorium,” Waters said.
In an interview, Collins predicted that the technology class will be “something way more advanced than any high school is doing around here.”
Ferguson resigned so that he and his wife, Ashley, who served as the Statesboro High band’s auxiliaries coordinator, can move to Seattle in search of new career opportunities.
Collins’ wife, Rhyne, their son, Nolen, 4, and twin daughters Molly and Katelyn, age 9 months, also attended Monday’s meet-and-greet. The Collinses put their house in Reidsville on the market last weekend to move to Statesboro.
As band director, Collins will become part of Statesboro High’s fine arts department, which includes three other teachers for choral, drama and visual arts. As department chair, drama teacher Eddie Frazier sat in on the interviews of four finalists for the band director job and said he was impressed with Collins.
“He knows his stuff, he knows the music, and I love the fact that he’s got the steel drum band and will have a jazz band,” Frazier said. “We haven’t had a jazz band since, I think, two directors ago.”
In an interview about his departure, Ferguson expressed appreciation of Waters and the SHS Band Boosters for their continuing support of the program.
Band Boosters President Virgil Horton, who had not met Collins before Monday, observed that he spelled out lofty expectations for himself and the band.
“He seems to have a good plan,” Horton said. “I just hope he can fill the shoes that he’s set out for us because we know these band students, and they will hold him to everything that he promised.”