By Chris Babb
For The Arkadelphian
Brandon Hanlon first saw the Arkadelphia Badger Pride Marching Band from a distance in 2019 at the Arkansas School Band and Orchestra Association State Marching Championship when he was the band director at fellow 4A competitor Ozark.
Starting this week, Hanlon will have a much closer view of the band as he begins his tenure as the Arkadelphia Public School District Director of Bands.
Hanlon and his wife, Lori, moved to Arkadelphia from Springdale just over a week ago where they both served in the Springdale School District. Brandon was previously head band director for Central Junior High in Springdale, a position he took after a stint as the Director of Bands at Ozark High School. Lori, previously a choir director at Ozark and at Springdale, will serve as choir director for the AHS and Goza choir programs and will help with the AHS marching band color guard.
The Hanlons will be joined by Carlos Udave and Ryan Wilkerson to form an entirely new staff for the APSD band program after the retirement of former director Aaron Seel and the departure of assistant band directors Whitney Smith and Brian Fowler to other districts.
Udave joins APSD after serving as an adjunct in the Siloam Springs band program and considers his area of interest and expertise woodwinds and jazz instruments. Wilkerson’s most recent position was assistant band director and Director of Percussion at Union City (TN) HS. Wilkerson has written percussion arrangements for dozens of schools including state champions in Arkansas, Indiana, New Jersey and California. More notably, Wilkerson has written the percussion arrangements for the Arkadelphia band program since 2017.
The Hanlons didn’t know Udave, but soon knew that they needed to inquire.
“We didn’t know him (Udave) personally, but we kept having people contact us saying, ‘You need to contact Carlos Udave,’” said Lori.
“It just kind of worked out,” Brandon added. “I called him one day to ask if he was interested and wanted to talk about it and then it ended up working out. And with Ryan, having an arranger on our staff is really, really good. He already knows the capabilities of our kids and he already writes for them.”
Hanlon remembers that 2019 Tantalus program with the theme of “Never Enough” that won the Badger Pride Marching Band its fourth consecutive state marching championship as his introduction to the Arkadelphia band program. (Fans can refresh themselves on the 2019 show at this link.)
“I remember seeing the Tantalus show in 2019 and it was one of the coolest shows I had ever seen,” Hanlon said. “I remember we (Ozark) played our ‘Pulse’ show and we ended up placing second behind Arkadelphia. We always talked about how they had three times the amount of people we did. We only had 40 kids and they had about three times that. It was really cool to see a school this size with so many kids involved in band.”
Hanlon remembered that when the time came that Arkadelphia was looking for a new band director. Ozark and Arkadelphia have close to the same number of students in the high school, but the number of students involved in the band program at Arkadelphia was intriguing.
“When the job came open we thought it would be a good opportunity because we’re familiar with schools this size,” said Hanlon. “We like the small town, we like the 4A size and we like the marching band style like more of the pageantry and ‘Bands of America’ style.”
Hanlon also saw some intrigue in the ability to hire an entire staff, although there are some challenges that come with that aspect of a new job, too.
“Change is hard, no matter what,” Hanlon said. “But it was also cool to have a clean slate of new music directors so we could get help from Aaron and help pass down some of the traditions and things like that. It always helps to have a team in place.”
Whereas the last two years have seen Hanlon involved in a junior high band program and not marching, he’s ready to get back to marching contests and likes what he has to work with in Arkadelphia.
“The marching band style is different than I’ve been doing the past two years, so I’m ready to get back into that really, really competitive aspect because I know these kids are super-competitive and really ready for it,” Hanlon said. “And then going past marching season, I’m really excited for concert season because I know some of the music they’ve programmed is really, really high level music. So not only are there a lot of kids in band, but there are a lot who play and they play really well.”
The 2022 competition show was already planned out by the former staff, and Hanlon is very happy that was already in place as Lori mentioned that most of the planning of shows is done in January and February.
“These take a long time to plan, so it was good that it was already done,” said Brandon. Although the staff knows the plan for the show and the students know some of the plan, he doesn’t want to take all of the mystery out of the show before the community sees the show as it progresses.
“It’s a really cool show – I really like it,” he teased. “I’ll just say it’s a cowboy and cowgirl western show, but not cheesy. That’s what we’ll go with.”
As the band directors meet the full band for the first time this week during summer band practices, all of them are excited about what the year will bring and establishing some of the core values students and the community can expect from the APSD band program, both in the world of music and in life values.
“Our ‘life lesson’ core values will be to respect people, respect space – both facilities and other people’s space – and respect music,” Brandon said.
The Hanlons echoed those core values and added another overarching thought.
“We always say wherever we go that the key to success is hard work and great people,” Lori added. “You can have one without the other, but it just won’t work.”
With regards to music, Brandon wants students to give their all.
“Honestly, it’s 100% effort at all time,” the director said. “Whether it’s marching, whether it’s learning music or whether it’s dancing in the stands. Marching band is about three things: you have to sound good first, then you have to look good and then you have to be good. That’s just how it works.”
When it comes to those Friday nights in the stands, Hanlon expects his band to have fun.
“Any time we’re in the band stands it’s a party,” Brandon said. “We’re there to support the football team, the cheerleaders the dance team, we’re there to support everybody. When it’s time to perform our show, it’s down to business and then when we get back to the stands it’s a party again. It’s kind of like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing.”
Part of the show that always has a positive impact on the visual element is the color guard, and Lori Hanlon is excited about the numbers she will have, with the 2022 color guard featuring just over 30 members.
“I had three really, really good color guard members in Ozark who had been together since they were in eighth grade, and we could throw anything at them and they could handle it,” Lori said. I’m excited to see what that looks like on a larger scale here, and I’m excited to include more weapon work with sabres and rifles into what we’re doing as well.”
Udave is ready to lend a helping hand in anything his fellow staff members need to make the band program successful.
“I’m the youngest on staff so it’s definitely a lot to take on, but they are very supportive and I’m looking forward to working with them and the kids,” said Udave. “I will do anything it takes to support as I can, and when it comes to musicality, I’ll do what I need to do to make sure the kids are in an environment where they are supporting one another and working with each other through this process. I like to tell students that you can’t do this alone, it’s a team effort. As we’re doing this process, you have to trust it and have everybody on board throughout the year.”
The Hanlons, Udave and Wilkerson will also be involved with the Goza bands, which provide the building block for future AHS bands and serve a vital role in the development of the program.
“First of all, we want to give everyone an opportunity,” said Brandon. “Everybody gets an opportunity to do music. The next thing is to get them on an instrument and establish really strong fundamentals. Our biggest goal is to have music literacy. If kids can read music, they can play an instrument. But it’s not necessarily the other way around. Music literacy is probably the biggest key to having successful beginners and then translating that up to seventh and eighth grade. I’ve heard some say that there’s no such thing as hard music, there’s just music that requires fundamentals that are hard.”
With Lori as the head of the Goza and AHS choir programs and involved with the color guard, the Hanlons hope to build a relationship between the band and choir programs that gives students an opportunity to be involved with both and potentially see one of the programs help students with the other.
“We find that a music department that works together is more successful,” said Lori. “At Ozark we shared over 50 percent of our students, and we find that students who struggle with playing in tune help themselves with tuning their instruments if they join choir because they’re using their ear more often. Students who are in choir and in band read music a little more fluently and can assist their peers. Choir music looks different than band music.
“It comes back to it all being about music literacy. I’m excited to come in and meet the students and incorporate what I do and keep some of their traditions they have currently in place.”
This relationship has worked for the Hanlons in the past and they hope to see it work in Arkadelphia as well.
“A lot of smaller schools will treat them separately, but I find that all the schools that have cohesive band and choir programs are some of the most successful in the state,” Lori said. “They go hand in hand.”
Ultimately, the new directors view the Badger Pride Marching band as the students’ program. “This is not our program, it’s their program,” the directors added. “The kids own it and we are the facilitators. We are here to make sure it’s the best experience of their lives.”