When Alan Sturdivant was hired as the Garinger High’s band director in August 2014, the program had everything he was looking for professionally. A Charlotte native, Sturdivant was interested in directing a high school program in an urban setting at which he could help establish some tradition.
There was one problem. In the months leading up to last school year, Garinger’s band had all but disappeared. Now, spurred by Sturdivant’s recruiting efforts and a growing enthusiasm among the student body, the Marching Wildcats are vibrant again.
Now 70 members strong, between instrumentalists, color guard and dancers, the program has become the pride of the school.
Last month, Garinger participated in its first band competition in six years. The Wildcats placed second out of five bands in the small band division at Berry Academy.
“Everyone thought the band was gone because of a lack of recruitment in the last semester,” Sturdivant said. “I started pulling in people, asking people in the hallways, ‘If you want to play an instrument, if you want to participate, I’ll teach you the way.’ People started coming in.”
A graduate of Independence High and Winston-Salem State, where he was the band’s drum major, the 28-year-old Sturdivant spent two years directing the marching band at South Stanly High in Norwood.
In addition to there being a lack of band members last August, Garinger also lacked quality equipment. Some instruments were impossible to tune. Drums’ lugnuts were rusty and impossible to remove. Flags for the color guard were old and faded.
“Last year, we didn’t have any uniforms,” said Mia Small, a two-year captain of the Blue Diamonds dance team component of the band. “The money situation was bad. The music didn’t sound that good. We’ve improved a lot.”
Sturdivant recruited enough students to form a band. By the end of the football season, there were 35 members. But that didn’t stop the Marching Wildcats from participating in Charlotte’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, another small but significant milestone.
In the off-season, Sturdivant applied for a grant from the southern rock band Widespread Panic’s Tunes for Tots program. Since last April, the Marching Wildcats have received $130,000 worth of new instruments and equipment.
Garinger’s feeder schools – Eastway Middle and Windsor Elementary – also have received Tunes for Tots grants in the last year, totaling $56,000.
Garinger’s graduating class of 1985 has also gotten behind the Marching Wildcats. Members celebrated their 30th reunion on Oct. 3 and decided to raise money for the band.
Tanya Filmore-Scott, a 1985 Garinger graduate, has taught at the school since 2010 and also from 2000-2005. She says the resurgence of the school’s marching band has given its members a level of celebrity on campus.
“They’re role models,” said Filmore-Scott. “People come to football games. The band brings them out. I think the energy comes from the band director.”
The Marching Wildcats turn a home football game into their own celebration. Following a nine-minute halftime show, its return to the bleachers is an encore of music and dance moves.
Sporting a school color of royal blue sports jacket, Sturdivant directs the band through a few more numbers during the third and fourth quarters. Near the end of the game, the Marching Wildcats retreat to the school’s band room, where the party continues.
The band, which refers to itself as “the premier band with signature sound,” has about 70 members this year, most of them sophomores and freshmen who have served only under Sturdivant’s direction. Some of the upperclassmen include junior Jermaine Godfrey, the head drum major, and senior Vivica Clyburn, a tuba player who joined the band only last year during Sturdivant’s first year.
“My first year, the band didn’t get any respect in school,” Godfrey said. “We’ve progressed and now the school loves us. They want us to perform at everything.”
Junior Morgan Kesler is an example of Sturdivant’s patience with new recruits. A first-year transfer from East Mecklenburg High, Kesler arrived at Garinger on the last day of band camp.
Sturdivant talked her into trying a new instrument, the piccolo, which took her two weeks to master. They both feel it was worth the wait.
Sturdivant, his students and the school all have a mutual respect for one another. The following band pledge, as recited by junior French horn player Nubia Jackson, says it all:
“We play to serve as an ambassador of Garinger High School, to be unified, morally sound and to uphold the integrity of the band. We are the hope for the future. We are the inspiration. We are the next generation.”
Joe Habina is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.