The Music Man

Published 10:15 am Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Talk to Chad Harry for five minutes and you know: This man loves what he does. And as the band director and Paperdolls dance team sponsor at Bogalusa High School, what he does is inspire kids of all ages to believe in themselves. He mentors teenagers — to pick up an instrument or don dance slippers and express themselves in ways many of them had never dreamed they could do.

With Harry’s soft-spoken encouragement and firm but caring discipline, these students find themselves making music and dancing to music and loving every minute of it.

Talented, charismatic, kind and giving, Harry represents the renaissance of music education at Bogalusa High School. When he arrived at the high school, the number of band members could almost be counted on two hands. Today, his “Big Bad Lumberjack Band” numbers about 64 dedicated musicians.

His pep band, which plays at the home basketball games, has “only about 50” students, he said. Harry noted proudly that out of his graduating class of Paperdolls last year, three of the four are now dancing in college.

The BHS band not only sounds good these days, but it looks good, too, now that they’re wearing the new uniforms approved by the Bogalusa School Board a little over a year ago.

And they are performing, and being noticed, outside of Washington Parish.

This past Mardi Gras the band marched in the MCCA parade as it usually does, but it also marched in the Krewe of Olympia parade in Covington and the Krewe of Houmas parade in Houma. The Krewe of Houmas, as part of its parade, has a battle of the bands contest, where five independent judges are placed throughout the route instead of at the reviewing stand to get a better look and feel of the bands’ performances. The winner, judged on appearance, sound, marching style and crowd appeal, is deemed Grand Champion and awarded a “Best Band” banner, an automatic invitation to the next year’s parade and a cash prize. The 2013 Grand Champion was The Big Bad Lumberjack Band. Harry said he had just received the check for $250.

Harry said he wants to expose his students to poetry, to dance, to art and to music. “The arts are so broad,” he said, “and there’s a place for everyone.

“I hear people say, ‘Well, I’m not talented. I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t play an instrument.’ I try to let them know there are other things that they can do, like graphic design, for example. When I talk to a lot of them, they look like… ‘OK, I could do this.’”

Harry said it is important to let the students know they are capable of doing these things and letting them know “there’s a world outside of Bogalusa,” and that world can change their lives.

Harry, the son of the popular Coach Melton Harry, who recently passed away, and Willie “Toni” Breaux, acting superintendent of Bogalusa City Schools, is a BHS grad himself. After graduation, he left Bogalusa for Grambling State University and returned in 2006, having earned a bachelor’s degree in Music Performance and a minor in Vocal Pedagogy. Before summer’s end he had been hired by the Bogalusa City School System to teach music at Superior Avenue Elementary School.

For five years Harry brought his enthusiasm and love for music to youngsters in the primary grades. He said he loved teaching those small children, and he couldn’t imagine ever leaving that position. But in the summer of 2011 he was asked to transfer to Bogalusa High School as band director. As great as that sounded, he said, he was reluctant to leave his young students.

But he was persuaded to take the position, and he’s loved every minute of it.

“I think the most important thing, and this is so true, I enjoy what I do,” he said. “There are some nights I don’t leave here until about 10. I don’t leave here saying, ‘Oh, I’m tired and ready to go home.’ I leave here still excited. I can’t wait to get here in the morning.”

And some of his students would stay, too, if asked.

“I really have some dedicated students,” he said, adding the parents are dedicated, too.

“I have 23 parents who have gone to the school board office to be fingerprinted to be able to chaperone and volunteer,” he said, repeating the number 23 for emphasis.

“You know, every day at band practice I have about 15 of them who come and monitor,” Harry said. So while he splits the students up into sections — upper brass, lower brass, percussion, etc. —parents sit in the rooms while he makes his rounds so that he can work with everyone.

“They can sit there and make sure (the students) are doing what they’re supposed to,” he said with a laugh.

Turning serious, he said, “They feed them. They loaded up a bunch of barbecue grills and came to the stadium during games and barbecued for them. They made sandwiches one day, put them in brown paper bags with chips and a piece of candy and gave everybody a Gatorade.”

Harry noted there have been a lot of teachers in the past who have complained about a lack of parental support.

“I have more than enough parental support,” he said smiling. “They take care of me. I try to get them to understand that with them taking care of the kids, that’s taking care of me.”

As this school year draws to a close, Harry has planned some special things for his students. They will be attending a workshop, “Taste of the South,” at Southern University in Baton Rouge April 19-21, where they will be learning and working with other bands from around the world. After that he will take the seniors on a trip to the Gulf Coast, where they’ll enjoy a water park and get in some beach time. In addition, seniors will also be awarded a letterman’s jacket, courtesy of a number of fundraisers that took place to pay for them.

Harry gets to his job each day and works tirelessly to make his students and Bogalusa High School better.

“My goal has been to bring back the pride to Bogalusa High School,” he said.