Chattanooga area composer in step with high-school bands

Chattanooga area composer in step with high-school bands

August 9th, 2011 by Susan Pierce in Life Entertainment

KobiƩ Manuel, left, instructs Koty Hudgins of Ridgeland High School on proper xylophone technique. Manuel is a UTC student who composes halftime shows for marching bands in the area.

Photo by Alex Washburn /Times Free Press.

When the Ridgeland High School Panther Band takes the field this fall, it will be marching to music composed by UTC student Kobié Manuel.

Manuel, 26, is gaining a reputation among area high school band directors as the go-to guy for well-written, entertaining, original, marching-band shows. Bands from Oklahoma to Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe are playing Manuel's music.

"People in the know, know about Kobié. He is trying to give band directors a sound nobody else has," said Rick Chambers, Ridgeland band director. This is the fourth year that Manuel has written his band's show.

"When he writes for us, he writes to the strength of this band. He knows how to put a lot of color into his music," Chambers said.

"Kobié stays in touch with what's going on in the pop-music world. He has been such a student of marching-band genre for years that I can hardly think of anybody else who would know it better than he does," said Dr. Jonathan McNair, one of Manuel's professors at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. "Because he is so devoted to it, he has absorbed what is possible to do with the genre."

What makes Manuel's talent more impressive is that he never had music-theory instruction until he arrived at UTC. He's a self-taught composer who learned through his own trial-and-error method in high school.

"I would copy band scores we were playing," said Manuel. "Then I'd figure out what the transposition was for each instrument, rewrite the score and rearrange it so it sounded like something you could play on the field. It was like a little boy dreaming."

His first original composition for a high school band was a piece called "Reflection," which a band in Indiana performed in 2009. It has since been performed by a band in Oklahoma, and a second Indiana band is using it this season.

Manuel said his goal is to be an entertainer by making his shows entertaining to fans.

"There is a clip on my Facebook page of the Indiana band doing my opener. They won first place in the state that year, and the crowd goes nuts. Any time the audience does that to my music, it's the most heartwarming thing to know to think I had a hand in helping create that level of excitement."


* Hometown: Smyrna, Tenn.

* Education: Graduate of LaVergne High School, senior music education major at UTC.

* Marching band: Trombone player and drum major in high school. At UTC, plays euphonium, marimba and has been drum major.

* Favorite composers: Dr. Gary Powell Nash, Dr. David Holsinger, Sir Malcolm Arnold, Samuel Hazo.

* Hear his music:

Q: What was the first piece you wrote?

A: An arrangement of jazz guitarist Pat Metheny music.

Q: What is the theme show you've written for Ridgeland's band?

A: It's called "Blue Element," and its theme is water. The music includes "Down to the River To Pray," an original portion called "Rapids" and music from the classic movie "On the Waterfront." It closes with the "Glee" mashup of "Singin' in the Rain" and Rihanna's "My Umbrella."

Q: What does an arrangement cost?

A: I usually charge between $1,000 and $2,000 for an arrangement and upward of $1,500 for an original. Price is based on minutes of the show and level of difficulty; the harder the show, the more expensive.

Q: What area high school bands have you assisted?

A: Other than Ridgeland, I've worked with LFO since 2005. I've also worked with Bradley Central, Soddy-Daisy, and I'm on the staff of Chattanooga Independent (Winter Guard indoor drum line.)

I've written music for Hixson High School (the "Hairspray" show), Farragut High in Knoxville and for Sequoyah High School's indoor drum line in Madisonville, Tenn.

Q: Who taught you music theory and composition at UTC?

A: I have to credit Dr. Jonathan McNair, Dr. Mario Abril and Dr. Roland Carter. Also Shane Porter taught me music theory in private instruction. He taught me to make music enjoyable for the listener.

Dr. McNair told me to have complete conviction in everything I write. Dr. Abril cleared up for me the basic fundamentals, the know-how. Dr. Carter taught me how to use my ear to listen, to figure out what it is I need to be putting on the page.

Q: What are you writing now?

A: I just finished writing "Avatar: The Last Airbender." I got the rights from Nickelodeon to arrange the music for marching band. I'm working on a show called "Erlking" for marching band. It's based on the mythological creature in 1700s folklore.