Whether it’s playing in the stands, marching during halftime, or performing in a concert hall, the members of the Clinton High School Band pour their hearts into their music. But they are also putting Clinton on the map as a strong competitor among bands nationwide.
The Clinton High School Band is made up of ninth through twelfth grade students who must audition for a spot, as well as try out for individual ranks in each section. Kevin Welborn, the director of bands for Clinton Public Schools, says that this year’s band will be the biggest yet, with 224 members.
The band is active throughout the entire year. During the fall, the marching band plays at all Clinton home football games and most of the away games, supporting the team and rallying the community together. But fall is also the band’s competitive season, which means they often get home late from games on Friday nights and wake up early for competitions on Saturdays.
The Clinton High School Marching Band is a perennial state finalist—the equivalent of going to the second round in football playoffs. Welborn says they also hold their own at some of the larger out-of-state competitions, placing among 30 to 45 schools. Last year, the marching band made the finals at the USBands Championships. Clinton High School has also hosted the state MHSAA band competition and will again this year.
“We believe competition breeds success,” says Welborn. “My job is to make sure our students are exposed to as much as possible and grow from it.”
In the spring, students take part in up to ten different ensembles. From concert bands and small chamber ensembles to indoor percussion groups and two winter guard groups, the band spends most of the second semester performing in concerts and attending state festivals.
The Clinton bands have multiple state championships under their belt, but the concert bands are also making a name for Clinton on the national scale. In 2014, the indoor percussion group won the WGI World Championships in Dayton, OH—their first year to go to the competition. This past year, the indoor group made the finals at Worlds and the winter guard scored higher than they ever had in their classification at Regionals.
“We are keeping our eyes looking forward,” Welborn says. “As long as we do our best and get better than the previous year, we are proud. We are definitely competitive, but it’s more about us being our best selves.”
The band has marched in the Memorial Day Parade in Washington D.C. and the Magic Kingdom Parade at Walt Disney World. Annual spring trips like these give the Clinton band a chance to showcase their talent to the world and celebrate a successful year.
“If we are going to ask these students to be their best,” says Welborn. “We have to make sure to do everything in our power to make them comfortable and confident in their environment.”
He adds that just like a sports team, the band practices as much as they can to improve their game. They even sacrifice time during weekends and holiday breaks to perfect their craft. The band practices every Monday night during the summer, and members attend a camp two weeks before classes start. During the school year, they rehearse for hours at a time throughout the week.
“Those that choose to play in the band know what’s at stake,” Welborn says. “We have to make sure we are working hard.”
But they also focus on growing as a team, spending time together even when they aren’t practicing. Welborn says it’s also important that rehearsals feel unified and productive: “We make sure to have clearly defined goals and focus on achieving those goals. We are always looking forward to the next thing. As long as we are constantly learning and having fun, the program continues to grow and get stronger. It’s just a matter of trying to push it to the next level.”
This is Welborn’s ninth year working with the Clinton band. He spent six years as director of percussion before becoming director of bands. He says he’s excited about this next season because of the rapid increase of members. In addition to the directors and staff that assist with rehearsals, the Clinton band booster club raised money to purchase more instruments and hire more adjuncts to help with the growth.
Students can get introduced to the band program in sixth grade through the Lovett Beginner Band and then progress to the junior high level before auditioning for the high school band. Welborn says that band benefits students in their academic classes and also helps them to be more punctual and willing to work with others. “They are learning lessons they will take with them for the rest of their life,” he says.
“I love how much of a team we are and if someone is struggling with something, we have to work together to find a solution and get better,” says Jordan Dubra, who plays the clarinet. “I enjoyed when we all marched together in the Magic Kingdom Parade at Disney World. Not only because it was with my friends, but because it was my first time there and I wouldn’t have spent it any other way.”
Welborn adds that the Clinton community can help support their nationally-ranked band program by coming to competitions, aiding students through fundraisers, and simply offering encouraging words.
“I am constantly learning from the students,” Welborn says. “We are seeing them go out and get jobs in the national music industry, expanding their own knowledge base with the skills they learned in the CHS band program. We try to provide them with what they need to grow.”