By Matt Montgomery
When Darnell Zook resigned as Piedmont High School’s band director earlier this year, administrators found his replacement not from Oklahoma, but from Michigan.
Laura Ketchum, of Kalamazoo, Mich., will lead the multi-state champion Pride of Piedmont Marching Band this year.
She graduated from Western Michigan University with a Bachelor of Arts Degree, and earned her Master’s Degree from Southern Oregon University. Her B.A. is in music education and her master’s is in conducting.
Ketchum brings a lot of experience to the table, having taught music at several schools in Michigan, including Brandon High School, Big Rapids High School and Flushing High School. She was head band director at Flushing High School. That school had a competitive marching band comparable to the Pride of Piedmont. That school is slightly larger than Piedmont High School.
She has experience leading a high school marching band to the top 10 in state, like she did with Flushing High School, who made it to the top 10 several times under her tutelage. Her concert ensembles at Flushing always received superior ratings.
Knowing the success Pride of Piedmont has had under previous leadership, Ketchum said her hope is to continue to maintain that level of success under her guidance. She has put together a relatively new staff for Pride this year.
The new band directors include Ketchum and assistants Dalton King and Josh Batty.
Other staff members Ketchum has assembled include Ryan Robinson, PhD, visual caption head; Derrell Wallace, visual instruction; Nick Steward, percussion arranging and instruction; Kristine Thompson, color guard design and instruction; Brianna Clark and Gabbi Allen, guard technicians; Joshua Bartrug, percussion technician. Drill design by Patrick Ruddy.
Ketchum hit the ground running when she was hired. She assembled summer band practices, rehearsals, drills, routines, and marching practice. She said the students aren’t having much issues adjusting to a new band director.
“For the most part, the kids are adjusting really well,” she said. “We’re trying to keep things consistent. Mr. Zook had everything set up really nice when he left. Change is hard, but I think the kids are really responding well and I’m getting a lot of positive feedback. We’re listening to concerns or questions they might have, their comfort level or what their past positions were.”
Ketchum is trying to bring her vast knowledge of music and marching bands and meld that with a successful format which was already in place. She said she has already seen the support from the community and was unaware just how involved Piedmont is toward their award-wining marching band.
“The thing I like about Piedmont and the thing that really attracted me and inspired me to move here is the community is extremely supportive,” she said. “That’s a real testament to the City of Piedmont. This is a very treasured marching band. Not every community understands the value of the music program. When I came out for my interviews and spoke to the administration, I was really impressed.”
Every year, the Pride of Piedmont implements a theme. This year’s theme is “Virtue.” More specifically, Ketchum and her staff took music arrangements from composer Richard Saucebo. The Pride design staff came up with the idea of the four classical Greek virtues, which Plato wrote about. The four separate movements are Courage, Prudence, Temperance and Justice. Ketchum and her staff will compose various arrangements to fit that theme. The guard will personify Greek statue poses. There will also be props to tie that idea together.
“I think it will be a really classy show,” she said. “The kids are really liking the music. All of our custom arrangements were written specifically for Piedmont.”
The custom arrangements were written by Nick Steward. Steward had previously worked under Zook five years back, and is familiar with Pride. Steward is a University of Central Oklahoma professor. He created customized percussion for this year’s “Virtue” theme.
With a new season, new staff members, new theme, and same passion for success, Ketchum believes this year is going to be special for the Pride of Piedmont.
“It’s going to be a really successful year,” she said. “We are certainly encouraged by all the hard work we’ve seen the students do so far.”
Even though it’s still early in the season, the students have been working diligently, being up at the high school the last few weeks preparing and practicing for the fall season. Ketchum said the students are actually slightly ahead of schedule. By the end of the summer band camp, Ketchum hopes to have the third movement done, which is most of the “Virtue” show.
Ketchum brought in a drill instructor she had worked with previously in Michigan. His name is Patrick Ruddy. He is in charge of making sure the students are in the right positions on the field. He worked on the first movement of “Virtue.”
Ketchum said it takes an entire summer and part of the opening of the season to perfect the details that will go into the final product. That process is called “cleaning.”
She said in the next few weeks, the band will have perfected all four movements of “Virtue,” ready to perform for the Piedmont community.