“There is no preparation they can give you (in college) to be in a room with 60 people with noise makers,” Assistant Daleville High School Band Director Stephanie Robertson laughingly remarked as she and Director Mark Nichols reminisced about their unexpected 10-year partnership leading the “Pride of the South” Marching Band, all related symphonic bands and now a high school choir. The two have taught literally thousands of students together, some of who have gone forth to be band directors themselves, professional musicians and even doctors. Nichols said they see anywhere from 60 to over 100 new students enter band every year and most stay in the program from sixth grade in elementary school through their senior year in high school.
Nichols is in his 21 year of directing bands, 13 of which have been at Daleville. Robertson is in her tenth year at DHS, having taught for a short time in Georgia. Neither began with the thought they’d still be at the school all these years later, but both say with quick smiles that they wouldn’t change a thing and have no intentions of going elsewhere.
The tradition of the band program at Daleville is renowned in the band world, nationally, even. While DHS is a small school in terms of student population, the band program has successfully fielded well over 110 members each year for the time Nichols and Robertson have been in charge. Plus. The multiple area, regional, state and national accolades are practically unheard of.
The directors said the band has traveled and won accolades all over the country and even in Canada. The “Pride of the South” has successfully competed in Toronto, Canada, Atlanta, Orlando, Gatlinburg, Dallas, New York City and Chicago. Next month, the band will travel to compete in a national competition in St. Louis.
A native of Marion, Nichols graduated high school from Marion Military Institute—now a junior college—then went on to college at the Troy State University and studied under the famed bandmaster Johnny Long. After Troy, he led bands in Florala, Tallassee and Eufaula before landing in Daleville. He also earned a master’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi in music education. He is the longest tenured band teacher in the history of DHS.
Robertson hails from Goshen near Troy. She graduated from Troy University in 2006 with a bachelor of science in music education. While teaching in Sumter County, GA, Robertson began looking for something closer to home and accepted her current job at Daleville, where she eventually married her husband, the current high school principal, Joshua Robertson.
So why did they stay in Daleville so long?
“We stayed and have been successful because we have great students and administration. We work together well because it’s been so long,” said Nichols. “The band has been successful here.” Robertson agrees and added that there are so many good memories and the bands have won so many awards that it makes it worthwhile to keep going. Both said they truly enjoy what they do every single day and delight in seeing the students learn and grow, not only in their musical talents, but as individuals aimed for success.
They give each other a super “high-five” for the year 2010. “We won two national competitions,” said Nichols. “We won a parade competition and we won a concert competition. We were competing against bands from all over the place. So, as far as a great memory for winning, that is a great one.” The band was one of several renowned high school bands to march in the 2010 Comerica AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic New Year's Parade that year.
Robertson added, “We didn’t expect that. We knew we were good, but we didn’t understand that we were that good.”
In 10 years, we’ve had 151 All-State spots and most people wouldn’t get that in a whole career. That’s just unheard of,” Robertson said. “We’ve had 374 honor band slots and that is unheard of. It’s because our kids work hard. Our kids don’t just succeed with us, they succeed elsewhere.”
“I know that since we have been here, we have had either the valedictorian, the salutatorian, or both every single year,” said Nichols.
But, as great as the DHS band program is, Nichols and Robertson said that winning is not what’s most important anymore.
“The older you get, winning is not the most important thing. It’s seeing the success of your students and knowing you were a big part of their lives. We teach them for seven years,” said Nichols with Robertson concurring. She said, “It’s seven years of their formative years. You get to watch them figure out who they are and see who they become once they leave here. We have a lot of doctors. We have a lot of (former students) in medical school right now. When (we) met them in seventh grade (we) would have never thought that, but they sure are.”
Both say they got into teaching to make a difference.
“Some jobs are jobs and some jobs are a calling. Teaching is a calling,” said Robertson with Nichols nodding in agreement.
“We are very excited to continue to teach more than 30 percent of the school population and have been able to maintain that regardless of the overall population of the school,” said Nichols. The two educators plan to continue “looking for the next big thing” to do for marching band shows, pieces to play and determine what the students need from them as people. They also note that the seventh grade band students they are now teaching is the “most talented group” they have ever taught and they expect them to accomplish great things through the coming years.
Nichols and Robertson said, almost in unison, “We try to teach to the whole student, not just the music student…The students respond and give back what (we) put in. It’s worth the time.”