When Don Clark assumed leadership over the Wauseon band program this school year, he hoped to establish a groove with the members that would pay off in stellar performances.
What he got was that and more: a dedicated group that, almost from the outset, has fired on all musical cylinders.
Clark said the 80 members of the program are committed to hard work and developing their musical chops. “It’s their flexibility, and their commitment to each other as a team. We’ve been able to continue the legacy of excellence the program has had,” he said.
And while it’s never easy being the new kid, Clark said the students were very welcoming toward him and assistant Amanda Aniolowski. “We are very appreciative of the latitude they’re giving us. They’ve been helpful in allowing us to learn the ways of the program and allowing us to do things that move the program forward,” he said.
Other than the stomach butterflies that come with new challenges, Clark had no reservations about taking the musical helm at Wauseon. And the band program members, who in variations comprise the Marching Band, the Wind Ensemble, the Concert Band, the Basketball Band, and the Jazz Band each year, didn’t disappoint.
“Starting in September we started to really gel. They really kicked in after performing at Columbus Grove in September,” he said. “How do you know? It’s just a feeling. You get an instinct with what the kids are thinking.”
The structure of the show this school year was new to them, “but they gravitated to learning that very quickly, Clark said. “In the last six months we have seen a great deal of pride in the band program, and we appreciate that every day. We’re extremely proud of their accomplishments.”
The list is impressive. Clark’s students have participated in the Fulton County Junior High and Senior High Honor Bands, The Bowling Green State University Reading Clinic, the District 1 Ohio Music Education Association (OMEA) Junior High and Senior High Honor Bands, the All-State Band, the 2016 OMEA Solo and Ensemble Contest, the Columbus Grove Contest, the Maumee and Swanton Marching Band contests, and the 2015 OMEA State Marching Band Finals.
His relationship with his students is a matter of give and take, in which the members’ suggestions are applied where possible. And they’ve shown they’re willing to accept challenges. The band’s wind ensemble is currently working on a more difficult arrangement of “Amazing Grace.”
“It challenges the students on breath control, phrasing, musicality, and intonation,” Clark said. The band will debut the piece March 12 at a Class A competition at Bowling Green High School.
Clark began his career in the Columbus school district in 1992. From 1996 to 2007 he was the Kilbourne High School band director in Worthington, Ohio, where he also taught at the elementary and middle schools. His continued in education in Paulding, Ohio, where he was band director between 2010-15.
Madelyn Wendt, a sophomore flutist, had dreams in elementary school of joining the school band but didn’t get the chance until seventh grade. She said the experience has been positive.
“Mr. Clark and Ms. A care very much about the band, and they push us to do our best, and I appreciate that,” she said.
Because the band members are a close-knit group “it feels good when we do accomplish things, because we work together,” Madelyn said.
Clark said one of his greatest rewards as band director is watching the students, some of whom are initially tentative and unsure, blossom both musically and personally.
“By the time they make it through the program and they’re graduating they’ve assumed leadership roles. It’s incredibly rewarding that music helped them be a part of that,” he said.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.