By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Halftime Heroes: Family, tradition part of band DNA at East Hall
1021EASTHALL 0006
East Hall trumpet player David Simmons marches during the Viking band's halftime performance in September at East Hall Stadium. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Family comes up over and over when talking with band members at East Hall High School.

Tradition comes up a lot when talking to band director Craig Cantrell — and loving kids.

“There’s a lot of band directors who love music more than kids,” he said. “That needs to be turned upside down.

“It’s not just teaching them notes and rhythms. You have to love kids.”

It’s a big family, 211 strong, Cantrell said Thursday.

The band has a big sound, too. It practiced Thursday for the first time in 10 days. The band played through its show, and to the unpracticed ear, it sounded as though it rehearsed daily.

The show is called “Ignite,” Cantrell explained.

The show features four numbers — one by Katy Perry, Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite,” Metallica’s “Fuel,” and “The 1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky.

He called the music “eclectic,” mixing popular music today with classical.

“It’s got something for everybody,” he said.

Cantrell credited the show to Chris Creswell, director of bands at the University of Jacksonville, including the band’s movements.

The band practiced Thursday after a break because of football and competitions. Cantrell noted that band can take two to three days of practice, a Friday football game and Saturday competition.

“That’s a lot,” he said.

He plainly is proud of the group. He said the band won its 4A class in its three competitions and finished second overall in each. The band competed at the Armuchee Invitational in Rome, the Lake Lanier Invitational at Chestatee Academy and the Blue Ridge Mountain Marching Festival.

Two days before the final competition, he got a call from the director. He wanted to know how Cantrell would feel if Central High from Carroll County came and competed. He explained Central had planned to compete on the coast and Hurricane Matthew wiped out that event.

Cantrell said he readily agreed to the new competition.

“Guess who won that one?” he asked, rhetorically. “Carroll.”

Cantrell has been band director at East Hall, his alma mater, for 14 years. He said he planned to be a middle school and elementary band director.

“This is the school I went to,” he explained. “I had no ambitions of coming to this school.”

In college, he said he was interested in “starting kids off.”

He was offered the job of assistant and two months into the school year became the director.

He is still there.

Cantrell hadn’t talked about his program for five minutes before he lauded “a really, really strong senior class.”

That class’s leadership “makes it easy on me,” he said.

He attributes the band size and students stepping into leadership roles to tradition.

“Kids want to be part of something that is successful,” he said.

“I tell the kids, ‘It’s not about being the very best. It’s about being your best. The competition is really about you,’” Cantrell said.

The drum majors, Gabby Hussey and Tucker Hardison, both seniors, talked about the success of the band and pulling together.

Brenda Galvez, captain for woodwinds; Benjamin Arevalo, captain for the brass section; and Eric Covarrubias, captain for drumline, all spoke about helping other band members — and the feel of family.

Similar comments were made through the rank and section leaders, which included juniors and seniors.

Arevalo noted that Cantrell taught the band members to serve each other. Covarrubias said, “There’s great pride in this band.”

Cantrell said his two senior drum majors will graduate, so this year he had “two and a half” drum majors. The “half” is Ulysses Salcido, a junior, who is helping out and learning the drum major routine and duties.

“I just really liked being involved in the band,” he said. “I just wanted to give back” — when he was asked about drum major.

“Tradition doesn’t graduate,” Cantrell said he has told the kids who will return. “You all have seen what it takes.”

They are expected to carry on the tradition.

The band gathered on the practice field behind the gym, each group going to a different part of the field to warm up. Equipment was being unloaded from two trailers for xylophones, cymbal, large drums and an electric guitar.

“Organized chaos,” Cantrell pronounced, looking at the group. “People ask me how I manage this. I say, ‘I don’t.’”

And he didn’t. The band leadership gathered sections and directed the warm-ups.

Cantrell made a couple of announcements and told the band he wanted to do the whole show — and the crescendo rose and fell through the program.

Regional events