After more than 30
years of leading band programs and decades of teaching at Leesville — one of the most prestigious high school band organizations in Wake County, in North Carolina, and in the United States — Mr. Dave Albert will lay down the conductor’s baton for the last time in 2011.
Albert, a figurehead of the Leesville Bands Program for the school’s entire existence, is stepping down in order to clear the way for chosen successor Christopher Serina, who currently directs the Garner High School band.
The decision to retire would seem to be a difficult one, but Albert knew the signs to look for before he would depart.
“I thought that time would tell me; the situation would be right. Four criteria needed to line up: there needed to be an administration that supports the arts, a helpful and supportive set of parents, a talented band, and a person willing to keep the integrity of tradition while bringing new energy,” he listed rapidly, as if these criteria were set in stone all along. “This kind of job is a young person’s job. It’s not easy to have the energy of a young person and the wisdom of an old person.”
Albert said that, without question, “the time is right.”
Even if the time is right, there’s no denying Albert’s impact on the Leesville community and arts programs.
“I’ve been to other schools and seen their band programs,” said Erica Spear, senior. “You can’t compare them to what we have at Leesville. The way he’s structured everything is genius, with student leadership and parent-run boosters… he’s done so much for this program.”
“He built the foundation of the LRHS band program,” added Band Captain Trevor Haga. “It’s built on tradition – that’s just how the band runs.” No comment was made about whether members of the band will be permitted to move the chairs in the band room under Serina, a travesty long forbidden under the current regime.
Albert credits the success of his tenure to the opportunity he was able to run with — an opportunity he worked for from Day One, as the second faculty member hired at the newly-built Leesville Road High.
“I came to LRHS to start LRHS… I decided it was time for me to see if I could be successful for myself, to come establish a program in a place where no one had been before,” he recalled. “[original LRHS principal Richard] Murphy was very encouraging — in order to help me develop, he gave me space to expand and grow. In our first year, the band had 32 members. That grew to 72 in the second year, and that’s when we started to earn ‘superior’ ratings.”
“These three elements make up a successful band program: first, in performances, we want to look good, we want to sound good, and we want to make sense to our audience; we also want all our music to be in tune, balanced, and expressive.” These, Albert professed, are the goals that are “just as evident today” as they were when the program first began blossoming.
“It’s definitely a well-oiled machine,” Jason Nance agreed.
“To me, the position [of director] is one that is taken with sincere admiration and respect for the school as well as the band program,” said incoming director Serina in an email interview. “I began my student teaching experience here in 2006… Mr. Albert took the time to be my mentor and close friend from the time I first walked into the school, and has been ‘instrumental’ in preparing me for the job I didn’t even know that I would have one day,” he said, pun intended.
“I attended Appalachian State University. I have worked in Tennessee and North Carolina, and most recently at Garner Magnet High School.”
Serina’s experience with the LRHS arts organization was the component that confirmed his fit with the Pride.
“The right person for the job doesn’t just know what we do — what’s more important is why we do it. I think [Serina] knows and understands the ‘whys’. He’s been able to make Leesville’s way of operating work at other places; it shouldn’t be much harder to make Leesville work at Leesville,” Albert observed with a wry smirk.
Albert’s final concert, given to a sold-out crowd of students’ families and friends as well as LRHS Band veterans, was a very appropriate ending to Albert’s long and accomplished career with the Pride.
Following the tradition of the band’s spring concerts, solo performances were given by departing seniors, including a flute solo by Erica Spear, a tuba solo by Jason Nance, piano solos by Nina Thigpen and Trevor Colleton, and a complex yet very impressive clarinet solo by Betsy Unger.
The final number of the scintillating performance was a rendition of Tchaikovsky’s well-known 1812 Overture, which Albert noted during the concert would signify “going out with a ‘bang’.”
Indeed it did — the Symphonic Band offered the complete experience (sans cannons). The resulting ovation lasted for over two minutes, and the audience remained standing as a school legend departed the stage one last time.
Albert has fully invested the program he governed and nurtured from the very beginning to Serina, and everyone involved seems to know that he’s made an excellent choice in his successor, who was introduced at the organization’s annual Band Banquet. But it is with heavy hearts and much regret that the students, parents, administration and arts teachers of Leesville watch the one and only Dave Albert depart the band he built and was building from the start. He will forever stay a part of the fabric of LRHS.