By Brett Milam
The new West Clermont High School has a secret too loud to keep quiet: the more than 200-member band.
When you pull into the expansive new high school parking lot, the sound of the marching band practicing is unmistakable, as they’re split into three sections — the percussion inside the band room and the wind section and color guard on the football field.
The merged band programs of Glen Este and Amelia high schools are being overseen by Brian Fischer, band director. Fischer oversees all the bands: marching, concert, pep and more. Prior to being pegged to lead this enormous roving band of teenage humanity or the “giant ship,” as he called it, Fischer taught at La Salle High School.
Fischer is part music aficionado and perfectionist and part motivational guru. He consumes Malcolm Gladwell books and listens to motivational band speakers, some of whom he’s even brought in to speak to the band.
As he sits in his office in the band room, talking to The Sun, his foot and hands can’t help but tap along and move to the percussion practicing five feet away.
“50 percent of teaching is just getting kids to believe they can do it,” he said. “It’s been super rewarding; the kids have blown me away.”
It’s the third week of band camp, where members have been working 12-hour days to get prepared.
A well-oiled band machine is about welding the ensemble pieces of image and sound. It’s big picture and little pieces at the same time.
“The trick is to break everything down into bite size chunks,” Fischer said.
The ensemble fans at the stadium may see as one big, roving mass is actually more like Ford’s classic individualized assembly line. It works like this: the football field is broken down into 22 1/2 inch squares, representing each student’s individual, coordinated steps. Each student only has to worry about their particular steps, not the larger collective.
“We tell the students to clean their own kitchen,” Fischer said. “If it were a collective, we could theoretically hide people. but doing this, we’re only as strong as our weakest member.”
Of the 200 kids involved in band, 150 of them are in the marching band alone. It’s the largest school activity, Fischer said, but organizing it is a three-ring circus and “everything is on fire.”
“It’s going to be a very exciting six years,” Fischer said, as he thinks six years in advance, recruiting with Aimee Schrameck and Scott Morgan, the middle school band directors, sixth graders interested in band. “We started deciding in March of last year who was going to be involved. It’s been a very long process.”
In total, Fischer said about 50 percent of the 6th grade class, or 300 students (out of 625 students in the total class), were recruited to be in band, with all of them beginners.
“Band is for everybody,” Fischer said. “You don’t have to have a musical background.”
There are no “starters” or “benchwarmers,” he added.
It was a scary endeavor, at first, Fischer said, since the students came from two different programs, but it helped that he hired a “dynamite staff” because students respond to excellent teaching, he said.
“Students bought into this new way,” he said.
In May, Fischer brought in motivational speaker, Scott Lang, who Fischer quoted, saying, “The more you give, the more you get.” As in, the more you give to the band program, the more you get.
At the end of the day, it’s about the students, Fischer said, and they are the ones who run the program.
“Lots of ways for students to take ownership of the program,” he said.
In fact, every student is involved in a job crew, like the water crew to keep members hydrated or the ones who move the electronics equipment.
“We’re trying to make band cool in the district again,” Fischer said.
But Fischer sees his job as not just teaching musical excellence, but teaching excellence through music. In fact, that’s the band’s motto: “To provide an opportunity to promote excellence through music, meaning excellence in all things life.”
The pillars of that excellence is integrity, empathy and humility through accountability. It’s in this way, Fischer said, that he feels like he’s definitely changing the world. If he can just send even one student back into the community to make a difference, then that’s everything.
The program is going to be big, Fischer said, with initial focus on competing in OMEA, the Ohio Music Education Association, and MidStates Band Association in Ohio.
“We’re taking it year-by-year,” Fischer said. “We don’t have any aspirations to take it national. We want to make sure our motto is at the highest levels.”
Band is also about community outreach.
“We want to build a great relationship with our community,” Fischer said. “I want this to be a great source of pride.”
Fischer said the band is something not many in the community know about; it’s the “best kept secret.”
On Sept. 22, the band is having a Friends and Family night from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., where the band will perform for the first time in uniform as a sort of test run before their first competition taking place the very next day.
It’s about the little things, Fischer said.
“I want them to know what it’s like to get on and off the bus,” he said.
When 50 percent of the band are freshmen and sophomores, it’s important to get them comfortable and Friends and Family night serves that purpose, Fischer said.
When the music isn’t playing and his shoes aren’t tapping along, the most rewarding part of Fischer’s job is to build relationships with the students and help them grow as human beings more.
Teenagers are unpredictable, Fischer said, but they surprise you in many ways, too.
“How crazy am I to put my reputation as an educator on the line with teenagers?” he said. “I can’t think of another job where you do that.”
Fischer said some of the students are still intimidated by him and it was a strange fit at first, but he tries to be as approachable as possible. Remaining consistent and calm helps with that approachability, he said.
“I try to approach all of them with the same expectations,” he added.
On the day The Sun was at the school, the winds were practicing making the WC logo on the field. From atop the stadium, taking pictures, Fischer noticed a few things out of place.
But it’s still early and there’s still time for excellence.
“It’s Friday Night Lights,” Fischer said.