EHS band tradition dates back almost 70 years

The Elizabethton High School Band tradition of excellence dates back to 1935.
  By Greg Miller

  For almost 70 years, the Elizabethton High School band has played their way into the hearts of local residents.
  The band was started in 1935. "We've basically had the same band uniforms since 1938," said Perry Elliott, band director. "Everything is a real big super tradition. The tradition of excellence is pretty big time, too."
  The greatest aspect of serving as the director of the Elizabethton High School band is "carrying on the tradition of excellence," Elliott said.
  A dwindling number of students at the school, combined with an increase in the number of programs offered to the students, results in "a lot of competition for the same students.
  "Fifteen years ago, we had well over a thousand, and right now we have right at 800. By the end of the school year, we'll go under 800 students." About 120 students participate in the school's band program.
  Elliott recalls several memorable experiences over the years. "We've played for the governor (former Gov. Don Sundquist)," he said. "That was very special. We played for the dedication of the Veterans War Memorial downtown. That was a very, very special event. We've been invited to play in Nashville at the state convention twice (Tennessee Music Educators Association). A lot of bands go their whole career and never get asked once."
  The band has participated in the Bands America competition several times. The band won in their class twice. They made the Top 10 -- "and that would be considered the Top 10 of the southeast" -- five times.
  Participating in the Elizabethton Christmas Parade "is always a big event for us," Elliott said. "What bigger honor can you have than to perform in front of tens of thousands of people in your own hometown?
  "Every event that we do is the most important one we've ever done," Elliott said. "And that goes from playing in a pep rally to playing in Nashville."
  The band has many philosophies, according to Elliott. "One of our main philosophies is 'You do the right thing because it's the right thing to do.' We talk about that all the time.
  "The most important part of a note is the first part and the last part, your first impression, your last impression. We talk about those things continuously, day in and day out. We talk about them all of the time."
  Elliott says he is neither a great disciplinarian nor a great motivator. "There is only one kind of discipline, and that's self-discipline, and there's only one kind of motivation, and that's self-motivation," he said. "My job is to point out to them, 'This is what you're capable of.'
  "I always tell them the truth, and if it's not good, I say, 'That's not good.' When I do say, 'That's good,' then they know it's the truth, because they haven't heard me tell them that it's good when it really wasn't."
  Students become members of the band for various reasons, according to Elliott. "A lot of kids join it because they love music," he said. "A lot of kids join it because they love the social aspect of it. A lot of them join because they enjoy the competitive aspect of it. A lot of them join it because their parents say, 'You're going to be in it, because I was in it, and your grandfather was in it, so you're going to be in it.' There's a million different reasons why they join band, but I think ultimately why they stay in band is because they like it."
  The discipline that is required in band can even help a student after he or she enters the corporate world. "If you have a major in business and a minor in music, you're more likely to be hired than with any other degree," Elliott said. "Music is all about self-discipline. You've got to practice. Nobody can practice for you. You've got to have the discipline to get up, get the horn out, sit down, or stand by the keyboard, or stand by the drum, or whatever it takes, and you've got to do that work.
  "The Fortune 500 companies recognized that years ago. It's statistically proven. Band students comprise the top 23 percent of every school academically. The top 23 percent of the kids are sitting out there in the band. Their ACT scores are higher. Their academic numbers are higher.
  "Music just makes the brain work. Music is mathematics. Music is a foreign language. Music is high-level problem solving skills. That's a proven fact. That's not an opinion. That's a fact."
  Elizabethton, Elliott notes, "is a very unique place. They have high expectations for the band...Almost everybody in this town has some close relationship with the band, and that's pretty unique."
  Elliott recalls the time when he had hired a woman from Knoxville to work with the band, and the band was returning from a marching band contest, which it had won. "When we were coming back, the police car pulled up in front of us," he said.
  "She said, 'Oh, you're in trouble now.'
  "I said, "'No, we're not in trouble.'
  "She said, 'What is it?'
  "I said, 'That's the police escort. They're bringing the kids in.'
  "She said, 'A police escort?'
  "Of course, she was from Knoxville and she had never seen anything like that.
  "She said, 'Am I in Mayberry?'
  "I said, 'In a lot of ways, that's what Elizabethton is. It's the best of every small town in the USA.'"
  In a small southern town, the high school is a "cultural hub," Elliott said. "The City of Elizabethton puts a lot of money per capita into the school, and they expect it to be good, and I don't think they're ever disappointed."