Directing The Future: Assistant Band Director James Woody Teaches, Inspires Students by Elise Papke

While they practice the piece First Suite in Eb in preparation for an upcoming concert, Assistant Band Director James Woody conducts this year’s top band on March 15. Photo by Elise Papke

At 5:45 a.m. James Woody wakes his kids and gets them ready for daycare. He lets out Jessie, the family dog, and makes sure everyone gets breakfast. He and his wife Catherine work as a team, each taking turns watching their two-year-old son and one-year-old daughter as the other gets ready.When everyone is ready for the day, he drops his kids off at daycare, and drives to Nation Ford, to direct the Nation Ford High School Marching Band, one of the best bands in the nation.

Mr. Woody has been the assistant band director at Nation Ford for two years.

 “I got my first director position at Andrew Jackson High School,” he said. “I taught there for five years until Nation Ford split, creating Catawba Ridge. I applied for the position and was hired in 2018.” 

But, you can’t become the assistant band director of a well-known band without some experience yourself. 

“I first learned about Drum Corps in the summer before my 9th grade year.  I had already marched in the marching band for two years as a 7th and 8th grader,” Mr.Woody remembered.

His enthusiasm for music began in the fourth and fifth grade. 

“I remember making my own ‘soundtracks’ in my head whenever I was playing outside,” he said. “I also remember paying more attention to the music in a movie than anything else.” 

As Mr. Woody gravitated towards music more and more, his family encouraged his interest. 

“My mom was definitely my biggest supporter,” he said. “My mom and her brother helped foster my love for music further in fifth grade when they gave me their trumpets. “My Uncle had a nicer professional level trumpet that he gave to me later when he saw that I had taken a serious interest in it.”

Mr. Woody’s love for music only grew as he moved to middle school. 

“My band director taught at both the middle school and high school and was the one who offered to take a group down to Columbia, SC to see a Drum Corps International show,” he said.

“He tried to explain what we were going to see, but words didn’t do it justice. We got to sit close to the field and all I remember was a stimulus overload. The volume, power and precision was something that was heavily imprinted in my mind. Three of us who went to see the show fell in love with it.”

The trio auditioned together for Carolina Crown in November 2002. 

Carolina Crown, a Drum Corps International group founded in Charlotte, NC, has guided Mr. Woody through many aspects of his life, and even brought him to Nation Ford. 

“My first memory of the first rehearsal was the staff being relentlessly strict,” he said. “They spent over an hour making us line up cases so that they were perfectly uniform.” 

He later realized the staff was teaching him one of the most important lessons he would learn: seeing what could be accomplished when focusing on the details.

His individual audition was easy, and he was given a spot playing mellophone. 

“The hardest part was getting accustomed to the extremely high standard that they were always asking for,” he said.

Mr. Woody realized he had challenged himself more than others, and through Carolina Crown he had learned lessons that would last him a lifetime. 

“I learned how to make and maintain relationships with others,” he said. “To this day I still maintain a great deal of relationships with those who I met in Carolina Crown.”

“I started teaching as a band staff member when the school originally opened. I met Mr. [Ray] Linkous when I was a member of Carolina Crown and got to know him further when teaching together at Carolina Crown and Nation Ford.  I helped teach at Nation Ford after I graduated with my bachelor’s up until I finished my master’s in 2014.”

Though this wasn’t his original dream, Mr. Woody still enjoys what he does. 

“ I honestly had no plans to be a band director,” he admits. “My first degree was in trumpet performance and my plan was to make a career in playing. I feel very blessed that I get to teach something I have such a great passion for.”

Band director Ray Linkous has known Mr. Woody for 15 years.

“I’ve had the unique perspective to see Mr. Woody transform from a college student musician into a successful colleague and fellow music educator,”  said Linkous. “Mr. Woody is a fantastic musician and one of the best music teachers in our state.  He is a team player and a person who strives to lead the students he teaches to be as knowledgeable and successful as possible.”

The struggles with COVID-19 have impacted Mr. Woody’s life differently than most.

 “ In the beginning it was a blessing because it gave me more time to be with my newborn daughter and my then two-year-old son. Teaching band is a large commitment in terms of time, and having that extra time to be with my family was definitely a positive.”

But teaching a band is difficult when students can’t practice as a group. 

“The very nature of what we do requires us to be together,” Mr. Woody explained. “However, because the band is used to hard work and adversity even in a normal season, the band was able to overcome the many challenges we faced and come out of it with great success.”

Beyond all the current struggles, Mr. Woody looks forward to the future. 

“My plans are to move into the new house our family is building and have fun raising my amazing kids with my amazing wife,” he said. “Having kids has totally changed my life for the better and my family is everything to me. I do plan to stay with NAFO. However, one thing I have learned in life is that it is unpredictable, and it’s hard to know exactly what the future holds.”

Linkous believes the future will be bright.

“I hope Mr. Woody’s future path finds him continuing to feel great joy in teaching music to young people and that his path is full of success and personal growth,” he said. “He is one of the most fantastic people I have had the privilege to know, and I am extremely grateful that I not only get to work with him, but also that I can call him a dear friend.”

Mr. Woody has high hopes for his students.

“I see them living successful lives doing what truly makes them happy,” he says. “I hope that band serves as a cornerstone in their life that provided valuable lessons and lifelong friendships.”

 The band’s motto is “The best we can be”, and Mr. Woody teaches his students the importance of working hard and striving for excellence.

“You get out of it what you put into it,” Mr. Woody says. “This can be applied to anything in life.”

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