March 02, 2011 Edition

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Hillcrest launches band program



Cheyenne Stone (left) and Caleb Jones, members of the Hillcrest High School band, prepare for a performance. This is the first year for the band at Hillcrest.
Gretchen Hunt
Editor

A new experience was available for Hillcrest High School students on the Strawberry campus this year as the school formed a band as part of its music program.

Directed by Jay Wilkins, the band has presented several performances throughout the year.

"Hillcrest has offered instrumental music classes in the high school in times past, but perhaps not quite in this manner," Wilkins said.

Wilkins, who is also pastor of Smithville Baptist Church, said he knew when he moved to the area, he wanted to also teach in some capacity. Hillcrest was in need of a social studies teacher, so he took the Praxis II test and added social studies to his license.

"Because I had been a band director for 12 of my 18 years in education, the administration here asked me if I would be interested in taking an instrumental music class and seeing what we could build," Wilkins said.

Arrangements were made to have a band class for students who already played an instrument, as well as a beginners class.

"We started the year with 15 students in the 'band' and four in the beginning class," Wilkins said.

Just before Christmas break, the band played a short four-tune program for the high school student body to try to recruit new students. HHS Principal Mickel Smith and Kathleen Holder, counselor, worked to re-arrange schedules, and 16 new beginning students enrolled in band in January. The band program currently has 33 students enrolled.

"I never expected the program to be quite like this," sophomore guitarist Toby Pagan said. "It's a lot cooler than I ever imagined." Wilkins said it can be a challenge to keep every student involved with varying levels of ability in the group.

"The one really positive thing about what we do is that every student is important - every student contributes in some way, no one ever has to 'sit on the bench.'"

Talent is not in short supply, according to Wilkins.

"We have a number of very talented students who are eager to learn," he said. "What seemed to be lacking was (and still is to a point) a bit of confidence. Playing for the high school helped. The high school audience was quite gracious to our band, which encouraged my students."

He said the band's last two performances have helped them most of all.

"We played for the elementary school awards assembly in mid-January, which was very well received," he said. "Then on Jan. 25, we played at our first home basketball game. The crowd responded well to what we played, and that was encouraging to all involved."

Wilkins said plans for the future include entertaining at several basketball games each year and presenting at least two annual concerts - one for Christmas and another in the Spring.

"As the program grows, perhaps other outside performances will be possible as well," he said.

Jeffery Coles, an eight-grader who plays trombone, said he is glad he decided to join the band.

"It's a bummer that we have to choose between basketball and band right now at Hillcrest, but in no way do I regret joining the band," he said.

Wilkins said support from within the school and the community has been amazing.

"Yvonne Mock, our music teacher, has been an angel in helping me get organized and started this year," he said. "This program has been truly blessed with tremendous support from our administration in scheduling and the supply of necessary equipment. The students are a credit to their families for their willingness to learn, positive spirit and well-mannered deportment. I am honored to get to be a part of it all."

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