From Bulldog to Lion

In the summer of 2000 I changed jobs and moved to Florida. I was no longer a Lynchburg Christian Academy (LCA) Bulldog, now I was a Lion from The King’s Academy (TKA).

There’s an old saying, The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Moving hundreds of miles to start teaching at a new school gave me hope that things would be better.

I hadn’t done a good job of managing my expectations.

Culture problem

I picked some music, set a schedule and started practicing the marching band.

A handful of students trotted off the practice field. What’s going on? I looked at the drum major. He told me that there were auditions for the school musical going on right now. My response was, “And?”

The students didn’t miss the entire rehearsal. One by one, they returned to the practice area and when rehearsal ended, one of the students approached me. He had been a member of the exodus. He said, “Mr. Dunn, I hope you’re not upset, but… You know … the musical is up here (Pointed over his head) and band is down here (Pointed at his waist.).”

We had a culture problem. This wasn’t going to be easy.

Culture – rehearsals

I am not the guy you call to come do one rehearsal with your band to ‘fix’ them. When I take on a new band, I don’t think about changing anything. I will try to optimize what they are doing.

The first thing to optimize is the practice routine. Great bands rehearse well. That is a part of their culture. When you come in as a new member, there is an expectation that you will carry your weight.

I like the saying, “You must practice in the way you wish to perform, because you will perform in the way that you practice.”. I repeated that saying over and over. We were not going to be a band that tolerated poor performing. And, every repetition in a rehearsal was a performance. Everything was a performance.

I would point out anyone walking by. “Someone just walked by and they formed an opinion about this band!”.

Culture – clean

What does trash have to do with top level performance? Great bands are clean, they’re not sloppy. We demanded clean repetition in rehearsals. But, we also emphasized throwing away our own trash.

When we went to competitions, we would pick up our area in the bleachers. We emphasized that no one is here to clean up our messes. We have high standards of ourselves. Our area will be completely clean when we leave.

This became a source of pride for the band. We would bring our own trash bags and hand sanitizer to competitions. Directors, parents and students from other bands noticed and contacted me. They didn’t understand, but it was part of our culture.

Culture – hard work

Other bands may have better talent, design, budget, etc. But, no one outworks us. We will work harder than any of our competitors.

Our water breaks were short and rehearsals were intense and filled with repetition. I would routinely yell, “No one works harder than us!”. Over the years we developed rehearsal schedules that were detailed down to the minute.

Quick fix

There is no such thing as a quick fix for a band program. It took about three years to see the beginnings of return on investment in the TKA band program. And, it was around seven years when things started to click.

Culture was the rising tide that lifted us to success.

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