DORA – Some of the best advice that Jeremy McFall ever received about his work came from Dr. Johnny Long, who was the band director at Troy University at the time.
“If you don’t make band fun, you’re not going to have a band,” Long said. McFall,who is now the band director at Dora High School, embraced that approach.
“You have to make it fun,” McFall said. “If you can make it fun, a group will come together like the group we have this year,” he said.
The kids have had a good time doing this show, and the audience seems to enjoy it, according to McFall.
Putting shows together is not easy. McFall usually starts working on the halftime show in June before the season begins in the fall.
“The first year I was back in 2015, we focused on songs that used the word fire,” he said. The band played Katie Perry’s "Fireworks," Pink’s "Just Like Fire" and they used songs by Adele and Billy Joel to round out the performance.
Last year the theme was about phones: "Can You Hear Me Now?"
This year, McFall wanted to do something different. “The last few years we’d done pop music and rock music, but we wanted to do something different,” he said.
He stumbled across the idea of a show based around jazz songs. He’s been a fan of Youngblood Brass Band, who uses not just jazz but a mixture of rock, funk, blues and a variety of styles. The show began to evolve, according to McFall.
McFall was browsing on YouTube and came across their song, "Third Half."
“I really liked it. When I played it for the kids, they liked it too,” he said. He found another song by the Rebirth Brass Band called "Do What You Wanna."
He then channeled an idea from a Showstoppers routine. “One of the performers danced on a box,” he remembered. McFall considered the group of dancers in his band and thought that the box routine might be fun for them, too.
“Some of the parents got busy and built the boxes that the band used during the show,” he said. “What might be even more fun is if the box dancing swapped between the drumline and the dancers in a kind of dance-off. It really worked out."
Toward the end of the show, the band slows the pace with a song by Lenard Cohen entitled, "Halleluiah." The show closes out with "Birdland."
High school band is not only about performing halftime shows. They also compete against other high schools around the state. This year Dora High School’s band excelled.
The band went to Russellville to compete in the Northwest Marching Festival and walked away with an overall superior rating. “It was still early in the season, but the kids played well,” he said.
Earlier in October, the band went to the Mud Creek Marching festival at Hanceville High school. The Bulldog band placed second in their class. The dance line won in their classification.
This was quite an accomplishment considering that a sizable portion of the band is young, according to McFall. The band has 40 wind players, which include, clarinets, saxophones, mellophone, trumpets, flutes, trombones, and tubas. Out of this group, 26 are seventh- and eighth-graders. “Over half of our wind sections is middle school,” McFall said.
According to McFall, you know you’ve had a good year when at the end, the kids still have a good attitude.
“When the kids are smiling, having fun, performing at a high level, and don’t want it to end, that’s when you know you’ve had a good season,” he said.
McFall starts working with kids in the sixth-grade, which is when the students are taught which end of the instrument to blow out of, how to put the instrument together and how to read music. Most of the kids coming to beginning band have no musical background.
“I really wish we could get an elementary music program started not only for Sumiton but for all our county schools. I think it’s important because music is something that enriches all the brain,” he said.
“The research that I’ve seen shows that kids that participate in music education programs excel in other areas,” he said.
Music touches on a lot of different areas. It’s scientific, mathematical, and analytical, according to McFall.
“I teach kids about the history of music,” he said. This gives kids a chance to have a broader understanding of music and the culture behind it.
Every day has a new challenge. “I have a good time doing what I do,” he said. “If we can teach music and provide a bright spot in some kids’ day, that’s great,” he said.
McFall graduated from UAB and was in the very first marching band at the college in 1994. He got his master’s degree from the University of Montevallo.
He started his career at Dora in 2000 and was band director of the Bulldogs for five years before leaving to pursue options at other schools. When he got an opportunity to come back to Dora he jumped at the chance.
“Dora has always felt like home to me,” he said.