Commitment to community is a fundamental part of what drives Mike Warren, the bank director at Baker County High School.
In the year since the young teacher took over the position, the number of participants in the school’s marching band has increased from 20 to the current 50 members.
Even record breaking heat didn’t stop the dedicated group of music students, along with majorette and color guard auxiliary units, from giving it everything they had during the recent week-long band camp August 1-5.
The group is gearing up for a colorful half-time show inspired by the musical Grease.
During camp, as students worked on one of the show’s compositions, Mr. Warren talked about his experience in Baker County so far and what the future holds.
“Segments of the Grease-inspired show will start appearing at football games as soon as the 2011-12 school year begins. The show, in its entirety, should be perfected by October,” he said.
It’s all part of a bigger plan to dazzle the judges in the up-coming Florida Bandmasters Association competition.
“The football games will be our dress rehearsals,” he said.
The turn-around in the marching band program is certainly worthy of note. After all, Mr. Warren is only 24 and Baker County is his first teaching position.
So what exactly has he been doing to increase interest and cement that kind of commitment from students?
“Basically, I’ve tried to make it fun, as well as educational,” he said. “And the students know I’m not going anywhere.”
Although he resides in Jacksonville, his commitment to Baker County is strong. He doesn’t think it fair to band students when instructors stay no more than two or three years, then move on. That kind of inconsistency doesn’t help students progress or master their craft, he believes.
“I plan to be here for a while,” he said. “And this is a great group of students.”
Growing up in a military family, he has lived all over the world and his open-mindedness to new experiences is one thing he hopes to bring to the band. His commitment to community, which was cemented by his first semester in college is another.
“I went to the University of New Orleans and my first semester was Hurricane Katrina,” he said.
The devastated city needed every helping hand it could get, even from students. He took his classes online while helping a demolition team from a nearby naval base. His parents owned a house in Ocean Springs, Mississippi and he often delivered supplies to their neighbors.
When he graduated and the position at Baker County High School opened up he took it without hesitation. The fact that he never spent much time in a small town didn’t phase him at all.
He found things a bit unorganized when he arrived but jumped right in to change that.
“The first thing I did was re-organize the band room,” he recalled.
That included removing the many chairs that had been stacked on top of the lockers for storage.
When he discovered the school’s dozens of marching band trophies in a closet he had students bring them out and arrange them on top of the lockers in chronological sequence starting with the 1970’s.
The students were shocked to see what the band had accomplished in the past.
“So now when the enter they see the legacy of former band students and the promise of what they have the potential to do in the future,” he said.
He’s been delighted with the level of discipline in his students and attempts to make all aspects of band an opportunity to instill pride.
“It’s hard work. Students must practice their music a lot,” he said. “And the music itself has a lot to do with their desire to practice.”
He lets students help decide which compositions they will perform.”
“If playing the music it isn’t fun, what’s the point?” he asks. “They’ve told me they don’t mind practicing all summer because the music is more fun than in the past.”
As he talks, the students start up on a lively rendition of Greased Lightning, which will be played to open the first halftime show this season. The brass section holds and maintains their exaggerated uplifted stance with gusto.
“The stance is to project sound to the audience and especially to the press box,” Mr. Warren explains. “No matter which direction they are moving on the field they are facing the stands.”
He says the band’s goal is to have the audience stay seated for an entire halftime show and they are working hard to master the music and create an engaging visual performance.
Mr. Warren has a few goals of his own. He’s considering forming a start up high school band for students who didn’t get involved in music early on. After a year, they could potentially be ready to join the marching band. He’d love to start a school jazz band as well.
All that will take time, but time is not an issue.
“Like I said before, I plan to be here for a while,” he said.