Finding the right notes: Local high school band directors and students share their experiences

Senior Tyson Steffenhagen, right, stands with the brass section during marching band practice at Ooltewah High School.

How does a high school band director get the best possible performance from his or her musicians? The answer is not to create a strict environment, but rather to create a comfortable one, where students can feel like themselves.

After all, the competitions these high school bands face are tense enough - when one student's out-of-place step or note can hurt the whole band. They are judged on the total package of their performance: the music's precision and creativity, the visuals of the accompanying color guard flag team, the technicality and perfection of the band's marching pattern and the "effect," or the emotional response elicited from the judges. And most high school marching bands can only attend a few big competitions each year. Every practice matters.

The stakes are high, but the payoff can last a lifetime.