A soft bustling fills the room as instruments of all kinds, dormant within plastic and textile, are brought down from shelves, off to go make music. Orange ripples across the carpeted floor and new flags are slipped onto aluminum pillars for the Color Guard to spin and toss high into the air. One man sits at a desk, clicking away at a computer, preparing a piece for his ever-eager students to perform.
Former Canyon Junior High band director Eric Rath transitioned to the head band director of The Soaring Pride Band following the departure of Mike Sheffield. Rath majored in music at West Texas A&M University and spent six years at the CJHS while working with the high school and intermediate school bands.
“This is all I’ve ever wanted to do since the seventh grade,” Rath said. “I had so many friends who have gone through so many different pathways to different careers. Especially students that were friends of mine when I was at WT. I’ve often thought, ‘What would I be doing if I wasn’t doing this?’”
Rath said he goes to other schools to work with their bands, bringing new ideas to a piece or perhaps helping them along with one of his own. He arranges the bands marching show music as well as original work.
“I compose primarily in the same kind of spaces I teach in,” Rath said. “We think of composers–of that grandiose [Ludwig van] Beethoven or even John Williams–with movie music. But just like there’s many facets within the band program, there’s many facets of composition. So, my focus on composition is generally the educational space, which is music for band, music for percussion and marching band arrangements.”
Rath said he plans to incorporate more individual and small-group performances into the band this year. This includes chamber music and small ensembles.
“Students learn to play independent of a conductor,” Rath said. “They learn to be an independent soloist on their part. They learn how to mix those parts together and how to understand the construction of the music in greater detail than in a full band rehearsal, where many students are playing the same part in duplication.”
Rath said there are aspects of teaching he hones in on that affect how he interacts with his students.
“I don’t know if they set me apart, but they are priorities in my teaching,” Rath said. “The first one is being extremely positive and thinking about building students up instead of tearing them down. Most of this job is really not particularly glamorous, so the people who do it well just really put their heads down and do a lot of work, and that’s just something I learned as a kid from my parents.”
Rath said he wants to teach his students a bad rehearsal or practice is still an accomplishment.
“I want students to be able to make mistakes, learn and be okay with that as part of the process,” Rath said. “While we might not be super satisfied with where that was at the end of a season of preparation, we could be really satisfied with that amount of progress; that amount of progress was really something we can hang our hats on.”