Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles featuring local school marching band programs and their preparation for halftime shows they will play during football season.
By STEVEN NALLEY
Starkville Academy doesn’t have the biggest band in town, but Amanda Harfst doesn’t mind.
One of the band’s few seniors, Harfst plays trumpet, and she says the band feels like family. She said she hasn’t known the band’s new director Duane Warfield for long, but he already feels like a close friend. He is able to take students’ opinions into account without compromising his overall vision, she said.
“He’s just really nice,” Harfst said. “He doesn’t yell at us, he doesn’t get in our face, but he’s still kind of stern. You know that you’re not going to get away with anything, but it’s not so bad. We’re all really close, so we can joke around and just have fun, (but) we get so much done.”
Warfield is starting off his first year as Starkville Academy’s band director with band camp this week, preparing the students for their halftime show, “Salsa Explosion.”
Before coming to SA, Warfield spent a year as an assistant band director at South Panola High School, and he also spent the 2006-2007 year teaching at SHS. He is currently pursuing a doctorate from the University of Iowa, and he is originally from St. Louis, Mo., but he said he was glad to return to Starkville.
“My wife and I really enjoyed the area,” Warfield said. “We enjoyed South Panola and living up there, but my wife got a full-time job at (Mississippi State University); she’s the new voice teacher. So, she decided to take that job, and I started looking for jobs and found that this was open.”
Billy Wilbanks, SA high school principal, said Warfield’s credentials are impressive. Current interest in the band is strong, he said, but he wants it to grow larger, and he believes Warfield can make it happen.
“Our numbers are down right now, so we’re hoping that Mr. Warfield coming in will be able to have a good year (and) get our numbers back up,” Wilbanks said. “We just welcome him, we’re glad to have him on board and we look forward to an outstanding year.”
Warfield said building the band up is one of his goals, but his primary goal is to give students a music education that will last after high school. That doesn’t mean they have to play in a college band or major in music, he said; he just wants them educated well enough to pursue those goals if they desire.
“(I want students) to enjoy music enough that they can still enjoy it throughout life and continue to play it through community bands, in their churches (or) in the communities,” Warfield said. “(This includes) not just playing their instruments, (but) singing too, any kind of music they can get involved in.”
Beau Ellis, a rising eighth grader in SA’s band, said he is excited about this year’s halftime show. Before working with Warfield, he said, he wasn’t familiar with the salsa genre, but he has fallen in love with it.
“I just think this will actually get the attention of the crowd,” Ellis said.
Like Harfst, Ellis said the SA band feels like a family, and he is proud to be part of it. Its members get along even when problems arise, he said, and Warfield fits right in.
“He just seems like he knows what he’s doing,” Harfst said. “He seems like the kind of person that would listen to a student instead of just blasting his trumpet as loud as he can. He’s open to suggestions. (Warfield is) just the kind of band director you’d like to have.”
Warfield said if he seems laid back, it’s partly because of his experience and largely because SA’s band students are courteous and cooperative.
“I told them the first day I was here: ‘You give me respect; I’ll give you respect,’” Warfield said. “That’s all I ask of them, and they’ve been doing it. The students are great, hard-working students, very friendly, very fun to be around (and) very anxious to learn.”