The State of NOVA blog today has a post up about the retirement of its band director of twenty-three years, Roy Holder.
Back in 1982, I graduated from Waynewood Elementary and moved up to Stephen Foster Intermediate. My cousin was a year ahead of me and had joined band. I had played piano for five years and thought that sounded interesting so I signed up for beginning band. I wanted to play trumpet, but the band director made me play french horn.
I decided to keep it up in high school and in the fall of 1984, got the notice that all band kids had to show up two weeks early for infamous "Band Camp" (we have to get ready for football games, etc. which start up pretty quick).
That was the first year of West Potomac High School's existence. I had no siblings who had gone to Fort Hunt or Groveton and I had paid some attention to the fight going on over the merge of Fort Hunt and Groveton High Schools. I was unhappy about it, but I certainly didn't feel some of the strong feelings that many people had. It was a really ugly fight.
Before 1983, Fort Hunt High School had one of the top band programs in the country and when they decided to merge the schools, the band directors from both high schools moved on. This guy from Tennessee, Roy Holder, saw an opportunity of a lifetime and got the job.
Mr. Holder had the unenviable task of bringing two groups of leery students together and create new traditions while sustaining a high quality program. Things such as whether to march to Fort Hunt or Groveton's old drum cadence had tremendous symbolic significance to the students and parents. We had no uniforms. No fight song.
We had our first band competition that fall. We wore blue cotton rugby shirts, white Dickie's (got mine from Ross at Beacon Hill), black shiny shoes, and white styrofoam hats. I can still remember Holder beating us down in the parking lot and telling us stories about some of the tiny schools he'd led in Tennessee shocking the establishment and beating them all. We cleaned up at our first state competition winning top honors.
I went on to become first chair in my section my junior year and first chair in the Gunston Region for two years. Mr. Holder pushing me the whole way. It's also not like I was someone who always behaved - I got my share of tongue lashings from Mr. Holder and still remember many of them today. He had a way of pulling the best out of you and out of the entire group.
In my junior year, he announced that he was leaving us for Lake Braddock. To a kid who had seen two of his four schools shut down (Hollin Hall Elementary & Stephen Foster Intermediate), this was very disappointing. He had been such a uniting, stabilizing, and forceful presence in our school you worry, but there was no question Lake Braddock - twice the size of West Potomac - was a more prestigious program and a step up for him.
It's hard to explain, but today I believe that I learned more about leadership watching Roy Holder get 100 kids to do their homework, march around in straight lines, and play music together as a group than just about anything else I've done in life. The guy is one of those teachers that you never ever forget.
Last spring, I was a guest conductor at the West Potomac's Band's March Madness concert. I mentioned to one of their directors, that I had been at West Potomac while Roy Holder was there. He somberly said - "you were very lucky." His reputation is clearly larger than life among his colleagues.
A band director in a good program has over a hundred of kids as students every year. Given the description of his farewell concert tonight (alumni returning, sold out tickets, overflow rooms with live streams), Mr. Holder has clearly reoriented the trajectory of thousands of kids over the last three decades. Our world is a better place because of him and his retirement will leave a huge hole.
I wish him well in his retirement. He's certainly earned it.