SHERRARD — David Grayson brings renewed enthusiasm and passion to Sherrards Junior and Senior High band programs.
Mr. Grayson began his career in the district when he was hired as band director for the 2016 school year and has been working tirelessly since. He said his own experience in high school band under James Hile at Highland Park inspires him to this day. “He always put the students first and the band first ... and that is how I conduct my band.”
Mr. Grayson spent the summer before he began as band director getting organized and taking stock of instruments and supplies. The band room and office were being used for storage. He said many instruments were in “bad shape,” and the school paid for those to be repaired.
“They’ve been nothing but supportive,” he said of the school board. He approached board members about replacing the 16-year-old marching uniforms and was pleased when they decided to cover the entire $52,000 cost.
“My original proposition was asking the school to cover 75 percent and we cover 25 percent (because it was) the right thing to do," Mr. Grayson said. “To cover that 25 percent would have been a stretch for the boosters.”
He said new uniforms were “well overdue.” The new uniforms are black with purple accents and gold trim, Band members already showed off their new uniforms when they marched in the New Windsor Rodeo Parade in August.
The school recently purchased a 24-foot trailer for the band program after the box truck it was using didn’t start on the way to a performance last school year. He said school administration also expanded his budget and provided a third podium for use during football games.
Mr. Grayson wrote a pregame show for marching before football games. He modeled it after the one performed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, from which he graduated with a bachelor's degree in music education.
At Sherrard, the band marches down the field in an "S" formation while playing the school fight song. He even incorporated a nod to the school’s heritage by using a portion of the former Winola High School Jets fight song. The Winola District merged with Sherrard in 1988.
“I wrote something that can become a tradition at Sherrard and one that the audience can come to expect out of the Marching Tigers,” he said.
Mr. Grayson's fiancee and high school sweetheart, Marissa Walzcak, shares his passion for music and the band. Together, they have worked into the night repainting music stands — adding Sherrard’s logo — and painting the band room, among other DIY projects.
The root of his passion is the teaching of Dr. Hile, now director of bands at Elmhurst College. They have maintained a mentorship-type relationship that Mr. Grayson said has helped him grow as a band director. “He is the main reason why I got into music as a profession and, more importantly, why I wanted to teach music ... specifically high school band.”
The Sherrard program is modeled after that used by Dr. Hile. “He taught me how to arrange music and write drill, which I do for my competitive Marching Tigers at Sherrard along with a few other high schools around the state.”
Mr. Grayson hopes to ignite the same enthusiasm in his students through school pride. “Pride encompasses everything a music program should have.” He said if students have pride, they work hard with dedication to the music they play, which extends to how they act. If they enjoy what they’re playing, he said, “It filters through the music.”
Last school year, Mr. Grayson led band students in their first competitive season in 10 years. Accomplishments included:
— The Marching Tigers placed second in Class 1A at both the Northern Illinois University Marching Competition and at the Metamora HS Marching Competition, where they also received Best Winds Award.
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— Symphonic Band received Division I at the Illinois High School Association contest.
— Jazz Ensemble received Division II at the Jazz In The Meadows Competition and Division I at the Illinois High School Association contest.
— Concert Band got Division II at the Illinois Grade School Music Association District V contest.
— JH Jazz Band got Division I at the Illinois Grade School Music Association District V contest.
“It’s not a trophy-chasing program, that’s not our goal,” he said. Rather, it’s a learning experience, “We’re the little dog in the big group.”
Students are “hugely supportive,” he said, and community among those in the program has grown through social activities. “(Band) is a safe place they can spend time.”
For the first time, band students are allowed to eat lunch in the band room, helping to foster a sense of belonging. Since last year, he said, “These kids are proud of what they created.”
By forming a student leadership team, Mr. Grayson encourages growth in responsibility, both personal and as a group. He said there are three sectors: band manager, equipment crew and library staff, which inventories and passes out music.
The group planned team-building events last year, including school lock-ins complete with relay races in the halls, a video game tournament and hide-and-seek throughout the building. “They want to do events together.” He said band students also planned monthly movie nights and fundraisers, including a lip sync battle.
Band members even went Christmas caroling together throughout the village of Sherrard last year, “all planned by students,” said Mr. Grayson proudly.
In his first year, band members took a trip to Disney World in Florida, where they marched through the park, performing for the last time in their old white uniforms. He hopes to do more traveling, “This year will not be an overnight trip year ... although we might take a day trip or two. Next year, we will look into a trip for the band to travel out of state for about five days.”
In the long term, Mr. Grayson envisions an eager band of 100 students — enrollment that hasn't been reached since the late 1990s and early 2000s. This year, the program has about 60 students.
He plans to give students more exposure to competitive playing and strengthen music skills by borrowing more difficult pieces from other schools.He said last year the band was playing category 5 music out of 6, "I'm very impressed with the kids."
But, he added, "It isn't about me — it is all about the students and the program.”