By Kaitlin Candelaria
During Ron Pence’s 20-year tenure as the Homewood High band director, the band has continued its tradition of excellence.
The largest high school band in the state, it has won countless awards, marched for millions across the country and swelled its ranks to unprecedented levels.
In the past year alone, band members have traveled to Pasadena, California, to march in the Tournament of Roses Parade, as well as to Orlando, Florida, to march in the Magic Music Days Parade in Walt Disney World.
This year, Pence says he’s just trying to catch his breath.
According to Pence, an average high school has 8 percent to 10 percent of its students enrolled in band. Homewood High School, with about 1,100 students, has an astounding 37 percent of the student body enrolled in band. This year, 165 eighth-grade students enrolled in band at Homewood Middle School. Pence said he expects 90 percent of those students to continue on the band path when they enter high school next year. Homewood High School could have almost half of its student population joining the band next year.
“I think it’s our enthusiasm and our traditions that attract students,” Pence said. “The arts are very important to the Homewood community. When you read our mission statement, you see that we’re here to help each student reach his or her unique potential.”
Pence said reaching that potential means not forcing students to choose between activities they want to do. Pence and other teachers have worked diligently to create schedules that allow students to focus on academics, athletics and the arts, he said.
“Why do kids have to pick?” he asked. “I think it was something that was really strong in my heart because growing up you had to choose and by forcing them to choose, we’re separating the children from each other. How can we reach their unique potential when we’re telling them they can’t be a part of something? Why can’t they all be a part of everything and be a part of the school?”
“The toughest part for me now that the band is so large is getting to know each kid personally,” Pence said.
Pence’s oldest son also is a member of the band and plays trumpet. His younger son is in seventh grade at Homewood Middle and is a member of the drumline.
Another way the school system makes band available for all students is by keeping band fees low.
“We increased band fees for the first time in 10 years this year to offset costs as we move forward,” Pence said. “We still have some of the cheapest fees in the state and even in the country and that’s on purpose because we want to include as many students as possible and we don’t want money to be an issue.”
He credits the school system as a whole with the success the band program has been able to achieve.
“Everyone from the board to the superintendents have been instrumental in helping us dream a dream of having the largest, most well-known and most well-traveled band in the state,” Pence said.