When learning an instrument, one of the largest causes of “burn-out” is music that fails to interest and inspire the students. Fortunately for Marathon students, they won’t have that problem. Meet Stanford Hancock, Marathon Middle High School’s band director.
Hancock still remembers his whirlwind weekend of taking over the band program from former director Joe Rayhill. After graduating from Temple University in 2018, he was challenged by three drives between the Keys and his hometown in south Georgia over a five-day span between his hiring and the start of the 2018 school year. Upon arriving, he couldn’t help but tip his cap to the solid foundation Rayhill had left. “Sometimes you get into situations where the old director ‘checked out’ a long time ago and everything is a mess, but that wasn’t the case here. He left me with a great program and strong players. I’ve talked to him a few times, and he’s never been anything but helpful and nice.”
Stanford has already set his sights on growing the program with as many talented players as possible. “Job number one is to get as many kids in as I can and show them how to love band and love music. Band’s not for everyone, but it’s for more kids than people think.” Whether they were inspired by a Little Mermaid concert at Stanley Switlik or an open house at the high school, Hancock’s vision is to re-invite players of all ages to have fun playing together. Many directors aim to start their students young and discourage new players joining after eighth grade, but according to Hancock, some of his strongest players are those who joined during their high school careers.
Rather than trying to achieve mastery within a limited class period, Hancock aims to empower his musicians to progress independently at home because of their own desire. He chooses music for his students accordingly; pieces the students learn may stretch their current abilities, but are interesting enough to the players that the challenge is worth the effort. “I gave my guitar class music from ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’ It might be a little above their pay grade, but it’s something they get excited about, so they practice a lot.”
For Stanford, the particularly exciting days are those when his students return with their own versions of the song after their interest inspires independent research. After all, in his vision, the path to greatest success lies in “giving them what I can so they can go fill in the gaps. I’m trying to move away from me being the source of information all the time. If I can get them excited, they’ll go learn things on their own. Kids will go home and figure out their own chords and tabs because they liked a song, and they’ll bring them back to me and ask what I think.”
Stanford’s early results are encouraging, to say the least. Approximately one-quarter of the sixth grade class participates in band. Two of his “late additions” that other directors might overlook have grown into one of his best saxophone players and a hopeful music major. The high school band has 25 students, while the middle school band boasts 34.
Support from the community has reinforced Hancock’s vision of growth. The Marathon Church of God selected the band program for its 2019 summer mission project after Pastor Nick Vaughn became aware of the need for new instruments to support the influx of students. Through the community’s generosity, a donation of $5,600 will eventually aid the department in purchasing new instruments before the start of the new year. In Hancock’s opinion, expense should not be an obstacle to learning music. “If a child wants to learn, it’s my job to give them an instrument,” he said.
At the end of the day, Hancock simply wants to inspire his students to share in his excitement and the joy of music. Regardless of their background, he aims to provide an environment that fosters curiosity, independent learning, and fun. After all, he says, “If you’re not having fun, there’s just no point.”