The Jack Robey Band of Pride marching band is indeed something that Jack Robey Junior High School can be proud of.
The band brought home a first-place finish in the Toyota Battle of the Bands competition on Jan. 19 in Houston and is preparing to compete in the invitation-only Viewers Choice Battle of the Bands at Six Flags Over Georgia on May 4 in Atlanta.
“There are 15 bands from across the country who were selected by the competition organizers,” said Brandon Hughey, who is completing his third year as Robey’s band director. “From what I understand they saw us on YouTube and then got in touch with us. In the last two weeks before the competition we are practicing from 3:30 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. every school day and if we need to we come in Saturday also.”
The band’s contest routine is a performance of eight numbers, including Superstition by Stevie Wonder.
“Stevie Wonder is supposed to be a guest judge so I thought we’d throw that one in there,” Hughey said with a smile.
The band consists of 75 eighth- and ninth-graders.
“Not everyone can be good at sports or get good grades all the time, but everybody can be a part of the band,” said assistant director Cary Clayton.
“You show them that they can get good at playing an instrument,” Hughey said. “When we first get them in the summer they are little bitty, fresh out of seventh grade. To see them grow and mature as a person during the two years they are here gives me a great sense of satisfaction.”
“We want the community to see that this band is very positive,” Clayton said. “We are a strong resource for this school. Everything we do is for the kids. Everything we do is positive. For most of these kids, if they weren’t here they would be at home doing nothing or out on the street. The 75 that we have will probably be the 75 strongest kids we run into.”
Hughey, who graduated from Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, said he tries to stretch his students musically.
“I try to help them to not just know how to press the right keys on their instruments but also to get the correct pitch on each note that they play,” Hughey said.
Hughey is quick to impress upon his young musicians the importance of putting everything they have into each performance.
“These days you never know who is going to show up and decide to film us with their phone and then post it to YouTube,” Hughey said. “I tell them that we always have to play our best so that no matter what happens people will know how good we are. I tell you, there are days when people will hear us and say they can’t believe it’s junior high school kids that are playing.”
“Other days they sound exactly like a junior high school band,” Clayton said with a chuckle. “But they are a good group of kids and they know how to play.”
Clayton has been assistant director since 2010.
“I am Brandon’s go-to guy,” Clayton said. “I make sure that I take the load off of him so he can focus on directing.”
Clayton, who was part of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s renowned marching band, watches over the percussion section.
“I was a percussionist at UAPB and my main job is to make sure the percussionists are doing what they need to be doing,” Clayton said. “Sometimes they get a bit too into what they are playing and I have to tone them down some. I tell them they need to let the rest of the band be heard. They are good at what they do.”
A band is only as good as its members and conversations with a few members of the Band of Pride make it clear that these kids know what they are doing.
“It’s like one big family,” said ninth-grade trumpet player Ronni Knox. “We can talk to someone about our problems and have people who will listen to us.”
Ninth-grade drum major Lataylor Rembert appreciates the approachability of the band director.
“I enjoy that you can talk to Mr. Hughey about anything,” Rembert said. “You are taught a sense of discipline and it’s fun at the same time.”
Eighth-grade trumpet player Alvin Glover was glad to have the opportunity to travel.
“Before joining the band I had never been anywhere,” Glover said. “We’ve gone to Lake Providence, La.; Mississippi and Houston.”
When the students were asked about their experience at the competition in Houston, several recounted the story of how a second-place finish became a win.
“We thought we had won second place and we were pretty happy with that,” Knox said. “But after we got on the bus Mr. Hughey got on and told us that we had actually won! We were so excited.”
Ninth-grade French horn player Gene Clay shared the view of the band as a close-knit group.
“This band is like a big family,” Clay said. “In addition to being taught by Mr. Hughey we also teach one another.”
Ninth-grade baritone player Mateo Campbell enjoys competing against other bands.
“It’s fun and challenging,” Campbell said. “You learn discipline and how to act around people. Even though we are different we all get along most of the time.”
Ninth-grade clarinet player Ashlyne Wooten also enjoyed the chance to broaden her horizons.
“I like the travelling and meeting new people,” Wooten said.
Ninth-grade saxophone player Naliyah Smith also appreciated the camaraderie associated with being in the band.
“We are a big family trying hard to get along,” Smith said.