CJH Band Practice
Earlier this year the Central Junior High Band won 40 medals at its first ever UIL competition. Earlier this month the band members visited SFA and played alongside the Lumberjack Band. Later this year the band will march in community parades, and the 2012-13 school year will see twirlers, more UIL events and basketball games added to the band’s expanding resume.
These achievements and future plans are beyond what band director David Lambert expected when he stopped teaching math two years ago to begin what he assumed would be a small school band.
“I thought maybe someday we would get to where we are now,” Lambert said. “But this being our second year, and to see how far we have come, I am continually floored by it. With the help of the community, and especially the help of the directors and musicians at SFA, we have really set ourselves on the right track.”
Lambert’s reaction is not surprising, considering the lack of funding and space, not to mention instruments, the band started with.
“We had 130 students in the sixth-grade, so we expected maybe 25 kids to sign up, and the old music classroom would be plenty of room for that many students,” Lambert said. “We started with a grand total of zero instruments, and we didn’t budget any money because we didn’t really expect a huge response.”
The response Lambert received was, as he described it, overwhelming. Eighty-five students participated the first year, and this year 90 more sixth-graders joined the band.
“There were kids knocking on the door constantly, every day, asking if they could be in band,” Lambert said. “It was at that point that I was excited, but growing concerned about possibly having to tell kids no because we didn’t have enough instruments, or the instruments they wanted to play.”
The Disabled American Veterans of Lufkin donated $3,500 to help the band get started, and once the Central ISD school board saw the interest the program was garnering, it “tapped in” to some of its funding to help out, according to Lambert.
Next was a grant from the E.L. Kurth Foundation, then instruments began being donated by other schools and community members who heard about the program’s need.
“We literally went from having zero instruments to over 100 by the end of the first year,” Lambert said. “SFA gave us a ton of instruments, so did area high schools. It is really beyond explanation how much support we received and how well everything turned out.”
According to Lambert, with the state funding problems that exist in public education, during a time of economic uncertainty, starting the band program in 2010 did not make sense — just like the program’s instant success has not made sense.
“Logically, it should not have happened now, but it did,” Lambert said. “Someone is looking out for us.”
Lambert, who called himself a man of faith, said that God was calling him to do something other than teach math in 2010, when his own son began talking about playing instruments. With his son still a few years away from junior high, Lambert said he wondered whether or not the school would have a band program in the near future.
“The timing of it is all still so funny,” he said. “I asked our administrators what it would take to get a program going, and Superintendent (Allen) Garner pretty much told me he had already been thinking about the same thing.
Lambert, the first to ask the question, also became the first to get the job.
“With my interest and musical background, I sort of became the guy who asked the right question at the right time and was the lucky one to have the opportunity to help start this program,” Lambert said. “I taught math for six years and I would walk around campus and see kids with guitars, and kids that really enjoyed music. It’s like there was this need because the students love music, but there wasn’t an outlet for it.”
Lambert said that seeing the needs of the program continually met at every turn has made him feel incredibly blessed.
“God was calling me, and I have seen his provisions,” he said. “On multiple occasions I have had students come to me and want to play an instrument we don’t have, and right before I tell that student that they can’t do it, I get a call and someone has just donated that exact instrument. It is beyond explanation.”
Lambert said that during one those instances, a student who wanted to play the trumpet had come to see him. Just before having to tell the student that there was not a trumpet she could play, a man walked into the office and brought a trumpet and a snare drum.
“At that point, this type of thing had happened before and I just smiled and was thinking ‘wow,’ but I remember at the time I wondered what the snare drum was for,” Lambert said. “The very next day a student came to me and asked if there was a snare drum he could play.”
Now, according to Lambert, the band program has become a place that students can call home during the school day. Groups of students eat lunch in the band room, and then practice their instruments until it is time to go back to class.
“The biggest positive, for me, is that we created a band family for the kids,” Lambert said. “They have a safe group of friends. They look out for one another, and they have healthy relationships with their peers. That is something that band encourages.”
Not only has the band provided positive social results, but academics have improved as well, according to principal Chad Smith.
When Lambert asked Smith what stood out to him about the emergence of the program, Smith said that students in the band had seen improved attendance and grades.
“We haven’t had a single student fail a course for the year,” Lambert said. “Those that may be struggling during the 9-weeks period always turn it around, because they know that they can’t play if they don’t.”
Lambert attributed the program’s success to the desire of the students and the support of the community, the school board, the principal and the superintendent. Moving forward, Lambert said he has a pep band in the work to play at basketball games.
“We don’t want the band to be an isolated entity, but rather a catalyst for school spirit and student involvement,” Lambert said. “We want to continually enhance the community by marching in parades and being visible.”
Eventually, with the band’s size growing, Lambert said he hopes to be able to practice and store equipment in a band hall that can accommodate the full size of the group.
“Everyone understands that would be a huge commitment for the district, considering the state of the economy and the scarcity of funding for new programs,” Lambert said. “We have initiated an intensive search for grants, and we are doing everything we can, but we are getting a little bit beyond what we can accomplish on our own, without more community help.”
Lambert said that he, as well as the district, is in uncharted territory at this point, but will trust things to work out the same way they have since the program began two years ago.
“As we add one grade each year, we don’t know what high school will hold,” he said. “We know we are going to have an even greater need for funding going forth and that any help would be greatly appreciated, but if there is a way for things to work out, I believe our community, our district and our superintendent will make it happen. There is not better advocate for student opportunities and involvement that Mr. Garner. This is new for everybody. We are out of the beginning stages and into the big leagues.”