Block Us Up! – Thank you for agreeing to do this interview with us Mr McCloud, it is indeed an honor. We will be interviewing the best band directors across the nation getting insight on a range of topics and I can think of no better way to kick it off than to begin with you, one of my greatest mentors and role models in music education and in life. You have accomplished so much in your 38 years as a music educator and band leader. Your career has touched so many lives… could you share with us a little about your background… your college years, and how that all shaped you into the band director and man you would eventually become?
Mr. McCloud – One fact that I’m extremely proud of is that I am a product of Burke High School as well. I also grew up in the neighborhood Gadsden Green Housing projects, about a two-minute walk away from that historic school. After graduating in 1972, I went to Florida A&M University where I served as trombone section leader and President of the 1975 band program during my senior year. In 1976, I graduated Magna Cum Laude and received two fellowships (The University of Iowa/Kansas)to continue my music studies. I accepted a full fellowship to the University of Iowa where I graduated with honors in 1977. In the fall of 1978, I was hired at Burke High School as the Director of Bands. I was welcomed back as a “savior” for our once storied program, and I would like to think that I did something good. I immediately tried to establish a program based on achieving basic to exceptional music skills through discipline and exposure.
Block Us Up! – Recently the Charleston County School District renamed Burke High School’s fine arts building to “The Linard H. McCloud Fine Arts Center” in your honor. How did you feel in that moment? As band directors, we all start out with lofty dreams of success and admiration from the people we want to help succeed. Did you ever see your career reaching this level of success, notoriety and respect? Who were your mentors and individuals you looked to for guidance as a young band director?
Mr. McCloud – The naming of the Fine Arts Building was quite an honor, and I will forever be appreciative and humbled by this recognition. It was even more gratifying to know that this endeavor was initiated and accomplished by my students. That makes it even more special. I can’t say that I saw any of this coming because as most directors, we just love what we do and realize that it’s a great sacrifice of time, family and friendships. I credit lots of people for my career. First, my grandmother who raised me and my mother are first on my list of career shapers because they taught me the meaning and feeling of hard work, humility, and unconditional love. Second, my many career achievements are based on my experiences at Florida A&M University. I believe that I had the best training with Dr. William P. Foster, Dr. Julian E. White, Prof. Charles Bing, Dr. Shaylor James, and of course, Lindsey Sarjeant. Dr. Foster and Prof. Bing are the reasons my high school program succeeded from its inception. Consequently through the years, Dr. White helped me mold it into what is has become today with Dr. James and Mr. Sarjeant providing support whenever needed. In 1990, FAMU started the first HBCU summer band camp and my concert program took off. I acquired the assistance, support and friendship of Major Herb Day (Citadel director, deceased), and Edna Grace (retired Stratford HS band director). Herb evaluated every Festival entry, and Edna would never let me give up when times were often difficult.
Block Us Up! – My earliest memory of you was when I was a 15 year old student in Georgetown High School’s Bulldog Band and we were lined up in your stadium having just finished performing and your announcer said “Let’s see who’s the real Bulldog Band!” and my lil heart just dropped!.. Lol.. Here came this nearly 200 member ensemble that looked and sounded like a college band and it was evident who the real bulldog band was! Lol… That experience changed my life. I’ve always been impressed with your Marching Bands but as I became a more experienced musician, and eventually a director myself, it became apparent to me that your students were PHENOMENAL musicians and your concert bands were amongst the best in the state as well. Could you give some insight on how you transformed inner-city students who just wanted to have fun at the ball game into grade 5 and 6 caliber musicians?
Mr. McCloud – I have always been concerned that traditional style bands were strongly ridiculed and often unfairly evaluated as just loud, unmusical aggregations of boys and girls. Unfortunately for many programs, some of the scrutiny was true because directors forgot or failed to build the band program the “right” way. Dr. William P. Foster insisted on the belief that one’s marching band is an extension of the concert band. He would always say, “Show me a good concert band that competes in festivals and in state evaluations, and I‘ll show you a marching band that’s challenging and unique.” In the early 80’s, based on my program, I began to realize that my students nor their parents ever attended symphony, orchestra, or concert performances nor were they interested in concert literature. How could I change their way of thinking? How could I redirect their “normal” way of living? I didn’t want a one dimensional program, all marching and no emphasis on concert. After much frustration and thought, I started a concert band exchange program. I was losing my kids to the streets during concert season because I couldn’t maintain their interest after football and marching seasons were over. So I simply picked up the phone and started calling other schools in other out-of-state cities to see if we could visit and perform for their students. This was the beginning of our spring break tour for concert season, and many of the relationships I’ve established doing this, are still in existence today. The Burke High School concert band program is in good, solid standing and serves as the basis for everything we do. Due to the increased interest and enrollment in our concert band, our overall program has tremendously improved in techniques, musicality and in competitiveness. Since 1990 every other year, we’ve traveled to St. Catherine’s, Ontario, Canada to perform for and with Laura Secord Secondary School. Throughout the years, they’ve returned this favor at least eight times. We’ve also made spring break tour appearances in Dallas, Texas; Wheaton, Maryland; Brooklyn, New York, Hampton, Virginia; Tallahassee, Florida; and, New Orleans and Hammond, Louisiana.
Block Us Up! – One year at festival, I remember the band directors in attendance (judges included) giving you a standing ovation during your warmup as the band beautifully sang all the parts to the selection. To that point…This next set of questions is for the band director nerds out there who I’m sure are just dying to know exactly what is your approach to preparing bands? What methods do you use, what books do you recommend, and most importantly, What is a McCloud band rehearsal like?
Mr. McCloud – There is no magic formula in developing an outstanding concert band program. Each year presents a different challenge when you work in a tough environment. However, for many of the smaller and less funded programs, the director must make the concert agenda a priority by introducing and drilling the literature earlier. Several years ago, I started my first concert rehearsal for new members in July. Boy, did I get the attention of the students and parents! I just believe that concert and marching bands must not be seasonal but year-round. Advance Fun with Fundamentals by Bill Laas is the primary daily method book I use for my band program. These exercises are demanding, and it offers the 1st and 2nd year players a challenging sequence of studies. It builds good, sound articulation and speed. Other regularly used books are the Treasury of Scales and Unisonal Chords and Scales. Our rehearsals open with individual tunings, and a 12- minute warm-up followed by the objective for the rehearsal. My students know that I adhere to the scheduled times for rehearsals. Parents, as disgusted as they may get, know that they have to wait for practice sessions to end. Rehearsal schedules are published and issued in advance, and adjustments are rare but are made, if needed.
Block Us Up! – If you had to pick out one thing that a band director should do EVERYDAY, what would it be and why?
Mr. McCloud – I think a band director should evaluate rehearsal effectiveness and achievement daily. This creates structure and gives one an opportunity to monitor and make adjustments for future lessons. Of course, I’ve learned that nothing is more important than prayer.
Block Us Up! – In the past, your booster organization hosted the “Palmetto Invitational” in Charleston, SC. You brought in bands like Bethune – Cookman, FAMU, SC State, Morris Brown, NCA&T, Johnson C Smith, and many others… It was essentially the early ninety’s version of the “Honda Battle of The Bands”, because the nation’s best were always there. The Palmetto Classic hosted thousands of spectators and helped to positively promote HBCU band culture and expose those bands to audiences that were not initially favorable to the traditionally styled HBCU bands. Do you feel that South Carolina needs another event of this scale and magnitude for said reasons? And what is the perception of traditional styled bands in the state of SC today?
Mr. McCloud – I haven’t abandoned the Palmetto Invitational. We have been seeking an exclusive sponsor because the event’s costs have skyrocketed. I have had some great HBCU bands appear at this annual event thus providing my students some excellent exposure to life outside of Charleston. I’m also elated to say that the Palmetto Invitational has served as a model for numerous directors in and out of this state-who are trying to establish their own classic. My goal for this venture was not only to provide much needed exposure for my students but to accumulate funds to present our students with scholarships. Through generated proceeds, we’ve maintained and awarded $6,000.00 annually to deserving Burke High School students who’ve been accepted to post-secondary institutions. We’ve also been able to pay for an instrument lease, purchase uniforms, and fund our attendance to band camps. I strongly feel we must continue to promote the acceptance of the traditional band style and program through quality performances. I despise the term “Show Band” of which so many of our fellow music colleagues have coined us. It is called “traditional” or “Big Ten” style, and it deserves the same respect that corps style marching gets. However, directors of traditional style band programs must promote quality music arrangements, and follow good performance practices (e.g. articulation, attacks, releases, phrasing, blend, balance, non-dominant percussion) to garner that respect.
Block Us Up! – Mr McCloud it has been an honor having you as our first Interviewee here at Block US Up! where our ultimate goal is to bridge the gap between the band fan and the band director so that our audiences become more knowledgeable about college bands and develop “an ear” as you would say. You contributed to this effort in a great way today and we thank you for your 38 years of service towards improving bands and improving lives. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Mr. McCloud – As a director, be truthful to yourself first and foremost. If it doesn’t sound good, be willing to say just that! Students depend on us to be transparent in our guidance and leadership of our band program. Success is what you make it. I’ve helped students earn over 6.5 million dollars in scholarship offers. Over 75 thousand dollars given from our band boosters to graduating band members, but most importantly, I’ve changed a lot of lives. Find what you need to do, roll up your sleeves, and make it successful!
Mr. Linard McCloud is the 1997 awardee of the Milken Educator Award, often referred to as the “Oscars of Teaching.” He continues to teach and guide students in the inner city of Charleston, SC but his lessons have traveled the world.