Learning Discipline, Personal Responsibility Through Band

Sep 8, 2017

To many, marching band is a another pastime during a football halftime. But for Jonathan Terry, it's more. Band changed his life. Terry used to be a troublemaker, but now he plays tenor drum in North Carolina Central University’s marching band.

“I didn't have any time to do any dumb stuff because I was at band practice”, said Terry.

 With band came the discipline and personal responsibility to actually focus on being a more productive person.

“It's kind of like going from a person who always tried to skip class and always try to, you know, mess with people just because I could,” Terry said. “[I] became a person who actually likes to learn now. I go to class on my own with because I actually like to learn.”

It's like you're part of an elite group of people who can't do what everyone else does. -Jonathan Terry

Terry didn’t make the change by himself. He has had some help along the way from his band directors. And this isn’t a rare occurrence, according to central’s band director T.D. Hollins.
“We become the parent, the counselor, the teacher, the mentor, on top of the educator,” Hollins said. “We wear a lot of hats when it come to the program.”

At Central, band members all wear crimson uniforms, tall hats and shiny feathers. Together, the band members become something bigger than themselves.

“It’s like you're part of an elite group of people who can't do what everyone else does,” Terry said. “No one that I know can just march and play and sing at the same time. That's just not common, so to be able to do that, and to be among a hundred other people that can do that… that’s pretty amazing.”

Band requires dedication, hard work, and a lot of time commitment. The high expectations forced Terry to get his life together. And he's not the only one.

Parrish Billups plays the quints, a type of drum he plays in the Shaw University Marching band.
Credit Kamaya Truitt-Martin / WUNC

Band’s what got Parrish Billups back into college. Two years ago, he was a college dropout. But then he ran into his old high school drum major who marched at Shaw University.

“Nah man I’m at Shaw, this my junior year, I want you to march under me my last year,” Billups remembers his friends saying.

Billups replied: “I was like ‘Bro, I’m not going back to college. I don’t know how my transcripts are lookin’...”

Billups’ friend then persuaded him to go talk to Head Band Director Charles Brown to see if he could help Billups out.

“So I talked to Mr. Brown. He gave me… a $7,500 scholarship,” Billups said. “I stayed off campus and I didn't have enough financial aid. [I] came here and I took experience from Virginia State and switched around because I knew I couldn't B.S  no more.”

You change with the environment... It's wild... It's proper order and that's how it should be. -Parrish Billups

Billups has used band as a gateway to many opportunities that have changed his life in the last couple years. Billups credits band to new values like discipline, order, uniformity and pride. He even carries himself differently now.

“You change with the environment,” he said.  You see someone wearing a suit, he wearing a suit, start looking clean. I’m over here sagging my pants. I maybe need to put a suit on. I start wearing dress pants and ever since then, I can’t even, he got me into tucking my shirt. Like it’s crazy, it’s wild… It’s proper order and that’s how it should be.”

That’s just the order that Billups needed in his life. Next spring, he will graduate with a degree in computer science. And Terry is going to continue working towards earning a degree in mass communications.

Terry in his maroon and black, Billups in his maroon and white, with their signature plumes -- both are gearing up this fall to take the field for another season.