Comet band parent and Clayton Band Classic volunteer Janet Molokach, right, waits for a signal before letting South Johnston band director Bobby McFarland and his drum major Danny Allen take the field.
CLAYTON -- In 1972, M.L. Minter started his career at Clayton High School with only 12 band students. By the time he left his job as band director in 1998, the band had more than 100 students and a band competition that has continued to this day.
On Saturday, Clayton hosted its 25th band classic, where 12 high school bands from the region competed in front of a panel of eight judges, attempting to prove their abilities in musical technique, marching, color guard and percussion.
Among the bands who took the field on Saturday were the units from Smithfield-Selma, Cleveland, West Johnston, Princeton, South Johnston and North Johnston. Other schools came from as far away as Wilson and Tarboro.
Although Clayton High doesn’t compete at its own band classic, it finishes the event with an exhibition performance – giving the students an opportunity to perform in front of hundreds of people awaiting their awards.
That opportunity to perform just for the sake of sharing their music is the reason Minter founded the band classic in 1987. He wanted to give his students an opportunity to show the Clayton community, and area high schools, what they were all about. “Our community was not only watching our band, but they were actually getting a good feel for what other schools and other communities were doing – so they had an opportunity to compare what we were doing and see all the time and effort we were putting in with our kids here,” Minter said.
In 1980, the band was at a point where it could start attending competitions, and Minter sent his students on fact-finding missions at other schools’ band classics so they could find out how best to run their own competition.
“I’d turn the students loose to talk to people about how it was run so we could put some ideas together and come up with our own competition. We did that for six years before we started our own,” Minter said.
Minter said he remembers students and staff asking what this band competition was all about, having never heard of one before. But at their first classic in 1987, 800 people – including students, faculty and community members – filled the stands on the Clayton High School football field.
“At band concerts, we’d have 25 to 30 people in the building; I felt the need to really embellish that and get the word out there is such a thing as a band and it stands alone. It’s a program in and of itself,” Minter said.
Today’s band director, John Pearson, is proud that he’s able to continue the band classic tradition that Minter started.
“The consistency of being able to host a show over that many years is something that not a lot of programs are able to pull off,” Pearson said.
It’s a labor of love from band booster parents and the students, and it’s not cheap, either. While the classic serves as a fundraiser with registration fees, tickets and concession sales, Pearson says there’s a lot of overhead cost involved.
Pearson said the band classic is something his students look forward to each year as an opportunity to share their talent with area schools and play host. “There’s lots of students coming to our campus and performing in our stadium, and they have an ownership in that process,” he said.
Saturday’s event ran from 4 p.m. to about 9 p.m., with a band playing every 20 minutes. Bands are divided by size and judged alongside their peers, with judges tallying up individual scores on everything from the musical effect to the marching technique, to the musical training and the visual effect.
While Clayton won’t get a score for all those categories, the judges will give them critiques. That way, Clayton can continue to improve and get ready to win at another school’s competition.
As for Minter, he was sitting in the stands at Saturday’s show, keeping an eye on the program he helped create. “I’m very proud of the progress our kids have made over the years,” Minter said. “It’s good to be able to sit back and watch that progress continue.”