You’ve heard of the NFL Combine, right? You know, that thing that athletes do to show top scouts that they not only have the abilities to go pro, but the foundational skill set that will help them achieve greatness as well?
Yeah? You have? Well………
The New Orleans Legacy Association of Bands held the inaugural HBCU Band Combine this past Saturday at Eleanor McMain Secondary School in New Orleans.
The event is the first of its kind, allowing students from all over Louisiana to audition American Idol-style for scholarships in some of the top marching bands in the country.
Here’s how it works: each student auditions before a panel of Historically Black College & University band directors and each director will evaluate students by their collegiate standard. After auditions are complete, each director will have a list of the students that qualify for their program and contact who they desire to recruit.
Representatives from Hampton University, Langston University, Jackson State University and Alcorn State University were among the numerous representatives present.
Solomon Alexander, Director of Resources for the New Orleans Legacy Association of Bands, said this is the perfect venue for collegiate band directors to audition both high school students and current college students looking to transfer schools; and make scholastic offers to them once the prerequisites are met.
“The mission was to bring students together to let them know that there are lots of colleges interested in helping educate you. You may want to go to a particular college for band, but after you play those two years in that band and want to transfer, you can audition for other universities while you are in a particular band, to find other opportunities and funding for school,” Alexander said.
In addition to auditioning, students were able to attend workshops to prepare them for college, such as properly completing the FAFSA financial aid form and securing school funding, underaged drinking with M.A.D.D. representatives, and understanding and protection from HIV and STDs.
Paul Adams, former collegiate band director, music arranger, and band consultant attended the event as the keynote speaker and to evaluate operations, concept, and overall application.
Adams said he’s been in talks with NOLAB about the project since July 2018 to blend the concept of an athletic combine with music, in order to prepare students for the reality of a collegiate band environment.
“Athletes go to a combine to show they are prepared with the fundamental skill set needed, because the coaches have seen them play in a game already, but what about their fundamentals? So when you go to these schools, if your fundamentals are not in place, and the number one fundamental skill in a band room is discipline–knowing when to shut up and listen and understanding that you are no longer in the band that you are from–it’s a different story.”
Alexander said that the organization expected 200 students to attend and received a quarter of that for band; they expected 30 young ladies for dance, and 50 attended.
“The expectations are real. We want more to participate,” Alexander said.
“I think we’ve been real successful. I saw some applications that we discussed in our planning stages that worked well, also I saw some that did not; however, I’m very positive about everything, even the things that they may consider to be negative, because this was the first one. It would’ve been a success for me if we had 10 people because the staff needed to go through this process,” Adams added.
“We reached out to local high school band directors and many responded well. We want to make sure that we are able to support any band institution whether K-12 or college,“ Alexander said.
They focused on the main band units: woodwinds, brass, percussion, with a dance clinic as well; however, they plan to expand to other performance units, such as choir.
Thomas Jones studied music in North Carolina and is now the Director of Bands at Hampton University. Jones said organizers encouraged him come down and scout the talent in the area to expose HU to a new market.
“Hampton University is all the way in Virginia on the East Coast, and we’ve never had any presence out here before so this is our chance to really look at that top talent in the area and give the students another option for college.”
Jones said he saw great talent at the Combine, but more importantly, many students that have overcome adversity and have really pushed forth ahead in life with great outlooks and ambition.
“As a college director, that’s what I look at–somebody who is destined and driven to succeed in life. We need more of these opportunities for our young students and to really encourage the arts as a means for those kids to get into college. Through HBCUs, student could have opportunities that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Christopher Herrero, Director of Bands at Edna Karr High School, said he wanted to make sure his students had the opportunity to audition for these college scholarships to try to give the kids an opportunity to go to college.
“These kids deserve their ticket out of New Orleans or Louisiana, to a higher education and this will make it more affordable for them and their families. Once they have the education, the opportunities are endless.”
For Edna Karr, Herrero said seeing a big band event such as the Combine stresses the importance of not just kids at Karr, but future Karr students and showing them the importance of the fundamentals taught at the school daily.
“It shows them how necessary it is for these opportunities. I’ve seen a lot of fellowship between the high school and college band directors. I’ve seen a lot of networking and beautiful relationships being built from this event and hopefully it’ll grow larger and larger. Hopefully this will be an event where people from all over the South will come to New Orleans just to audition for scholarships.”
The organization stresses that although they are New Orleans-based, NOLAB is there to assist music students across the state in their collegiate endeavors.
Alexander said that for the colleges who weren’t able to be personally and but contacted NOLAB prior to, they are able to send those schools submissions if they are signed up properly.
As far as for future plans, Alexander said the next steps includes dissecting the Combine; taking it apart and rebuild it with the information gathered to figure out what works and what doesn’t. They are also working to get more representation from both collegiate band directors and high school band directors.
“Students are still able to contact us for assistance through email and social media. I would like to see this organization grow and be able to help us as New Orleans get back to having the band programs in elementary schools. New Orleans, we start them off in pre-school–they can blow, they can breathe, they could play a horn, they could beat a drum. Our mission in New Orleans Legacy Association of Bands is to help support programs in public schools, private schools, and out-of-school programs. We want to be able to build the New Orleans band community back up to where it was prior to Hurricane Katrina.”
Students from across Louisiana and the Southern region are invited to participate in the next HBCU Combine in 2019. Interested individuals, such as students or band directors, can keep up with NOLAB and get updates by following them on social media or going to www.nolalegacybands.org.