Battle of the Bands

Kids march towards a better future.Fighting declining interest and funding woes, two HISD high schools offer kids an oom pah pah way to better futures

With the entire band due to show up in four days, it's clear that Runnels knows that repeating the success of the past year will not come easy.
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Out on the field in the late afternoon heat, Joseph is visibly upset. He's wearing a large fishing hat and dark shades, and he's yelling into his megaphone. "This is a marching band, not a walking band," he says as he follows briskly behind the band that he just sent running to a wall 250 yards away.

By his demand, everyone in the band is wearing a hat and the appropriate clothing. But the maintenance crew messed up his lines and hasn't cut the grass. And the band can't seem to march and chant as one. So, Joseph is upset.

No amount of fitness work could completely prepare Worthing band members for daily marching workouts.
Photo by Chasen Marshall
No amount of fitness work could completely prepare Worthing band members for daily marching workouts.
Megaphone in hand, Renford Joseph takes on the role of drill sergeant.
Photo by Chasen Marshall
Megaphone in hand, Renford Joseph takes on the role of drill sergeant.

"Y'all are bringing this on yourselves," he says, once they return from their run. All but one are standing on their line with their backs straight, though most are panting. One of the drummers, a heavyset girl with braided hair, doesn't even attempt to run. Being out of shape is one thing to Joseph, laziness is quite another. He tells her to keep on walking all the way home. And she leaves.

"He's hard on them, but there's nothing he won't do for these kids," says Martha Lewis, the band's auxiliary coordinator. "He's probably bought more lunches and given more rides home than any teacher or counselor in this school."

Today the band is supposed to be marching with its instruments, but a misunderstanding with the custodians forced the group to make do with a single snare and Joseph's megaphone.

Joseph delivers the marching instructions: "Mark time eight, break away eight, mark time eight, break away eight and halt." The group repeats the instructions, pointing in the direction the orders direct them. Shayla Tibbs, the snare section leader, starts beating the marching cadence. Knees rise in unison and voices ring out as one. Arms are extended to reflect where instruments would be held.

The group appears to execute the routine almost perfectly. "Good, not great, but good," Joseph says into the megaphone. He weaves through the group, pointing out those who were off the cadence, not bringing knees up high enough, not sounding off at a proper volume or maybe for wearing an ugly hat. Those he points out go running for the wall.

Once the group is reunited, despite exhaustion and frustration, they are at attention.

"Y'all know good is not good enough for me," Joseph says. "If y'all want to be the best, y'all got work to do, each and every one of you. This is your band. Mark time eight. "

chasen.marshall@houstonpress.com

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