“Anybody can write music of a sort. But touching the public heart is quite another thing.” – John Phillip Sousa, Legendary Band Master
Block Us Up! – Hello Mr. Hopkins, welcome to Block Us Up! We’ve known each other for quite some time but, for the sake of our readers out there, could you share with us a little about your educational, and professional, background and how those experiences prepared you for your current role as Asst. Band Director and Arranger For Prairie View A&M University?
Mr. Hopkins – Thank you Mr. Stackhouse for having me, it is truly an honor and I am absolutely humbled. I am an Instrumental Music honor graduate of South Carolina State University. Prior to accepting the position here at Prairie View A&M University, I taught 7 years of high school in Columbia, South Carolina. As a young musician, my biggest influence in arranging came from a gentleman by the name of Willie E. Lyles. He was my high school band director and always made something out of nothing. He would always challenge us to tap into our creativity by stating “If you do things differently than everyone else, you make it hard for people to compare you to anyone else.” Those words have always stuck with me. So much so, that anytime I put the pen to the pad, I’m constantly thinking… “how creative can I be with this one?”
Block Us Up! – Like many of the premier HBCU Bands across the nation, The Prairie View A&M Marching Storm has a well established sound concept that has been consistent through the generations. How does the traditions and practices established long before you, shape your approach when preparing an arrangement and in what ways do you instill your own likes and preferences?
Mr. Hopkins – The Storm has always possessed a sound of its own, which is something that I’ve always admired about this program. Even though The Storm is in a conference where an aggressive sound is a standard so to speak, they always made an attempt to play with the focus on musicality. I like to think that my style is extremely aggressive but refined due in large part to my education. In college, I had the opportunity to study under Mr. Benjamin Mcknight who taught me a lot about voicing and how to create a big sound with a small ensemble. Using the tools given to me by him and Mr. Lyles, and studying the scores of the late Ronald J. Sarjeant, I developed a sound that I found to be “unique”. One that, I believe, compliments my style as an arranger. So to be honest, it was a very easy transition for me. And it works well for our program.
Prarie View A&M Marching Storm performs at the Bands of America Regional Championship
Block Us Up! – I’ve always been impressed by Prairie View because to me you all have always created your own lane as far as your sound concept. Being a member of the SWAC, I know it would be much easier to sort of “follow the crowd”. How would you describe The Marching Storm’s sound and what is your approach to preparing material for the band to perform?
Mr. Hopkins – Well, Dr. Zachery isn’t a follow the crowd type of guy. He has no problem going against the norm when it’s in the best interest of the program. One thing we pride ourselves in is playing with a big (yet really clean), and balanced sound. That’s one of our primary focuses. We love volume and intensity just as much as the next person, but we will not sacrifice our musicianship to “follow the norm.” When I’m preparing a chart for the storm, I ask myself… “is there something musically interesting happening for both the players and the listeners?” If I feel like that answer may be no, I will rewrite and revise the arrangement until I feel it meets the standard of our program. The greatest thing about this group is we have a lot of talented student musicians which makes my job as an arranger easier. The students already know what is expected and what is not acceptable in terms of the approach to the horns or drums.
Block Us Up! – In light of the current copyright issues facing HBCUs, and frankly all college and HS bands, what advice would you give marching band arrangers on the proper way to navigate this copyright conundrum?
Mr. Hopkins – Research and understand what you as an arranger are dealing with. Check your licensing at your institution and make sure that you are operating within the agreements. Copyright infringement is real.
Block Us Up! – You have managed to secure a Chief Arranger position at one of the best college bands in the nation, and at a very young age I might add. What advice would you give to, both, young and older arrangers out there aspiring to achieve just what you have?
Mr. Hopkins – Let your work speak for you and find ways to become better at the craft. Remain humble and always remember why you do what you do.
Block Us Up! – Mr. Hopkins, thank you for speaking with us today. We wish you and the Prairie View A&M University Band continued success. How might our readers, who are interested in The Marching Storm, contact you for more information?
Mr. Hopkins – Thank you again for having me. Readers interested in the Prairie View A&M University Marching Storm can contact Dr. Timmey Zachery Head Director of Bands via email at TTZACHERY@PVAMU.EDU or office phone 936-261-3314. My email address is BDHOPKINS@PVAMU.EDU and my office number is 936.261.3317. They can also follow us on Facebook and on Twitter at @PVAMUStorm.
Mr. Brandon Hopkins is an honor graduate of South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, South Carolina. He currently serves as the arranger and lower brass instructor for the Prairie View A&M University Bands. He is happily married to Emerald Freeman of Vance, South Carolina and they have been blessed with one child, Brieson.