Band director retires after nine years at Jemison High SchoolBy Emily Reed Published 6:37pm Friday, May 23, 2014
With cues that were often direct, precise and followed with a foot tap and countdown of 1-2-1-2-3-4, Jemison Band Director George Martin captured the attention each day of more than 100 students.
“The kids were my reward,” Martin said. “When I started at Jemison High School in 2005, my philosophy was that I was going to be positive. We wanted to do the right things but put it in a positive spin. After that, we started attracting kids who wanted to be a part of the band. They wanted to have success so we grew out of that.”
Martin announced his plans to retire earlier this year from his position as band director at JHS, with his last day at the school on Friday.
“It is bittersweet,” Martin said. “After 36 years of teaching music, I wanted to get out and do some other things. I felt like it was a good time to go. The band has been successful, and I think it will continue to be successful. For now I am just going to go relax, golf, fish, work on my house and spend time with my wife.”
In October 2013, the Jemison High School Blue Regiment Band received the highest scores of a competition in Prattville and earned the grand champion title.
The Heart of Dixie Marching contest was held Oct. 12 in the Stanley-Jemison Stadium in Prattville with seven bands competing.
The Blue Regiment, a 1A band, competed in the 3A class and was awarded superior ratings for band, color guard, percussion, drum major, dance line and majorettes.
The band also received best in class trophies for band, drum major, percussion and majorettes.
“We had a good nucleus of kids who laid the foundation for us to be successful,” Martin said. “They wanted to work hard and they did, and because of that, they were successful.”
Martin started playing music in the fifth grade after being recruited by his band director to play the trombone in Washington County.
“I would equate my experience to the nucleus of kids at Jemison where a group of us started together and we ended together,” Martin said. “Band was one of the things I knew I could do so I stuck with it. When I graduated from high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Somewhere along the way I was asked to help with a band camp, I did that a couple of times and told myself I could do this, so I majored in music.”
Martin recalled his earlier experiences as band director in his office last week at Jemison High School as several band students stopped by to practice their instruments in the band room.
“These kids want to do a good job, and they are willing to put in the time,” Martin said as he tapped his foot to the methodic sound of a drum overheard in the room adjacent to his office.
Martin graduated college from the University of West Alabama where he got his first job student teaching at Foley High School.
“After student teaching I got a job in Florida,” Martin said. “I then taught in Enterprise, Eufaula, Oak Grove, Baker High School in Mobile and came to Jemison in 2005.”
Martin said when he first came to Jemison, the size of the band was much smaller and many kids were not interested in playing music.
“I think the interest in band has grown throughout the years because other students want to be a part of the success,” Martin said. “If the music sounds good, people will want to be a part of it.”
Although Martin said he will miss the kids and working with them and their parents, he will not miss waking up early.
“That is something I will not miss,” Martin said laughing. “You have to wake up real early every morning to come to school, and I have been doing that since the 1960s when I was in school myself. I will miss the routine though.”
Seniors (and recent graduates) Elijah English and Madison Smith credited Martin with helping make the brand program at JHS a success.
“He has taken this band and turned it into something people are excited about being a part of,” English said. “He made the band into a family and made the band worth the time and effort to know that someone cares about it.”
Smith said at times, students involved in the marching band would spend 50-60 percent of their lives practicing.
“Mr. Martin gained the respect of our program because of where he took it,” Smith said. “Whenever we go somewhere, people know who we are because of the reputation Mr. Martin built. He shows respect to the program and in return, the students respect the program.”
During the summer, the marching band practices for two weeks leading up to the first day of school in August at “band camp” which involves daylong practices in the heat.
“One of the phrases Mr. Martin is best known for is, ‘it isn’t a good day until the train comes’,” Smith said. “You would know it was 4:30 p.m. because the train would come by and it would be a water break.”
English said another popular phrase used by Martin was “band director’s word of honor” which meant something would soon end.
“He would say that, and think of something else and we would play again,” English said. “He always said it was ‘band director’s word of honor’ that it was the end, but we usually knew we would have to play something again.”
For now, Martin said he will “hang back” and let a new director take over at JHS but will carry the memories of his time with the band for a lifetime.
“The kids have meant everything to me,” Martin said. “These kids raised the bar because they wanted the challenge and they will continue to want more and dig deeper, I have no doubt of that.”