Bryan Cheney came full circle when he took over as band director at Houston Middle School in Hobbs some 18 years ago.
Houston was where, in seventh grade, he first picked up a set of drumsticks — learning percussion under the tutelage of then band director David Allen. From the start, Cheney said, there was a thrill to playing music he couldn’t find anyplace else.
“That first time I was in middle school band and the whole band was playing,” Cheney remembered. “I was actually playing a suspended cymbal. It builds, it’s just a big crescendo.
“When you’re playing with the whole band, when everybody is crescendoing together, that first big arrival of the song. It just gives you chills. That’s the addiction; the attraction, I guess. It makes you want to have that again because you can’t get that moment individually.”
And now Cheney has truly come home. A 1995 graduate of Hobbs High School, he’s back in the band hall there as the new Director of Bands for Hobbs Municipal Schools.
While each of the individual school bands in Hobbs is autonomous, as Director of Bands for HMS, Cheney essentially guides the program for the district, he said. Each middle school band acts as a feeder to the high school band, developing young musicians as they move forward through the program, Cheney said.
After high school, he studied music composition at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. From there, he worked in Chicago for a couple of years, then Palm Springs, Calif., before coming home to Hobbs to be closer to his family.
“It was definitely nostalgic,” Cheney said. “I was excited to be able to teach at Houston, just like I’m excited to be able to teach here at Hobbs High as an alumnus.
“It’s fun, seeing some of the traditions and being able to bing back some traditions I remember from growing up. Nothing has really changed that much. All the traditions that are in place right now are the ones we’re going to keep going with.”
And one of the first traditions is the Eagle Marching Band. Cheney and his young musicians spent the days leading up to the opening of school practicing, and learning, marching techniques and gearing up for the upcoming season.
Marching band today is different than it was 20 years ago and previous Director of Bands Rusty Crowe evolved the local program to follow that trend. And that’s a tradition Cheney plans to keep in place, continuing steady march by the Eagle Band toward state competitions at the annual Zia Marching Band Festival each autumn in Albuquerque.
“I feel it’s a vehicle for the kids to advance,” Cheney said. “We can play fun shows and that would be great. But educationally the music kids are exposed to in competitive marching is at a higher level — it’s more difficult and it takes more competition.”
Each year, the band prepares one “show” that’s presented during halftime of home football games leading up to the competition. But that’s not all the band members work on during that four month long marching season, Cheney said.
“You also have the music we play in the stands,” he said. “When we’re not performing at halftime and we’re just pumping up the crowd, we’re going to do a little bit of — some of the same music, but some different music.
“But if you think about the football field as a blank canvas, we’re trying to present an artistic idea. I didn’t go to school to teach dance, for example, but there’s a lot of dance involved in what we do — body movement, exploring the space around your body which makes the kids more physically aware.”
That’s part of the bigger picture Cheney and the band staff at Hobbs High School are trying to teach and instill in their students, he said. Getting the kids used to the idea of being off their “devices” and being more aware of the world around them. And it goes beyond the music room into everyday life.
“If they walk into a room and there’s trash on the floor, for example, we’re working on them (to get used to) pick it up,” Cheney said. “And we want them to translate that back to their instruments. When they find a passage they can’t play, the can’t avoid it. They dig into it and fix it.
“It’s just a mindset of seeing the things that need to be done, the hardest thing that needs to be done, and taking care of it. In any aspect of life.”
Taking over a program is difficult, combining the ideas and techniques of a new director into an established regimen. But Cheney said he and Crowe are a lot alike, with the same ideas — and goals — for the Eagle Band program.
“I’m going to make the program my own just by being a different person,” Cheney said. “I told the kids when I got hired I’m going to try to keep the same trajectory but I can’t make the same.
“We’re just going to carry the torch. It will change a little bit but it’s not going to be — it’s going to be the same band, the same Hobbs High School band. It’s a great program that can do a lot of great things for the kids.”