Published Sun, Jan 24, 2010 05:03 AM Modified Sun, Jan 24, 2010 05:30 AM
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The N.C. Central University Marching Sound Machine has grown to 200 members under Jorim Reid's leadership. When he took it over in 2001, it had 32 members.
Tar Heel: He's NCCU's music man
DURHAM -- Two years into his tenure as N.C. Central University's band director, Jorim Reid reached a milestone in 2003 when he convinced the university to part with $60,000 for new band uniforms.
Though the band had been formally outfitted at times in the past, it had not for years. The band, tiny at 32 members when he took it over in 2001, had been performing in wind suits, humbling when compared to larger, more decked-out bands from other universities.
Some band members wept when they opened the boxes.
"Some said they slept in their uniforms," Reid remembers.
The uniform purchase was one of several key moments in the progression of the NCCU Marching Sound Machine under Reid's leadership, a slow slog that culminated in November with the band's invitation to the Tournament of Roses Parade next year.
The Rose Bowl, one of college football's preeminent bowl games, is considered "The Granddaddy of 'em all." For Reid, a coveted invitation to its parade in Pasadena, Calif., is a crowning achievement. The parade is considered part of the holy trinity of accomplishments for marching bands, along with an invitation to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the John Philip Sousa Foundation's Sudler Trophy given each year to the top college or university band in the nation.
The parade invite was an unlikely goal in 2001 when Reid took over a band program on a shoestring budget with little support. The $13,000 budget had to fund the Marching Sound Machine and the pep and symphonic bands.
There was little in the way of facilities and there still isn't; Reid's is a rare college band that rehearses at the university's football stadium rather than on its own practice field.
Still, Reid soldiered forward in the face of a community that, he says now, did not appreciate what a successful band could offer the university. So he set out to "literally win souls one by one."
He wrote a 15-year plan of goals and the resources needed to meet them. The Rose Parade was on the list.
At first, Reid faced pushback. Administrators wondered why Reid insisted that all band members had to be included on all trips,
a budget killer given the cost of buses and fuel.
To Reid, this was an imperative. The band had to grow and make a statement.
"There are high school bands in Texas with 400 members," he says.
Slowly, Reid began getting results.
The band uniforms were a nice score. When the band hit 100 members, Reid made good on a pledge he'd made and shaved his head.
And then came a band showcase in Norfolk, Va., which Reid thinks of now as the band's coming-out party. There were more than 30,000 attendees, and the NCCU band, still largely an unknown, roused them to ovation.
"The kids didn't know how to handle it," Reid recalls fondly.
Reid comes from music.
His family came from Gary, Ind., a music hotbed that gave the world the Jacksons, among other musical families. It bred a rich musical culture of gospel, R&B, blues and jazz. Reid's mother, Rose, was a gospel singer who also played clarinet and piano.
Moving to Florida
The family relocated to South Florida, where Reid grew up playing guitar, piano, drums and woodwinds.
He attended Florida A & M University, a historically black institution in Tallahassee with one of the most famous marching bands in the nation. Reid was drum major, the theatrical leader of the band.
He majored in music and later got a master's degree in music from Florida State. From there, he taught K-12 music while also giving piano lessons and selling pianos.
He came to NCCU as assistant band director in 2000 and took it over a year later. Now 36, the soft-spoken Reid is reluctant to take too much credit for the band's resurgence.
"He doesn't like a lot of limelight," said Ronnie Chalmers, a 2003 NCCU graduate who was Reid's first drum major. "He likes to put the students out front. That attracted a lot of people to the band."
The band now boasts about 200 members. From the beginning, Reid placed a premium on musical performance. A marching band performance is a high-energy, emotional event, but Reid insisted his students be technically sound as well.
While the marching band is the most recognizable NCCU music group, Reid says his student musicians have honed their chops playing with the smaller, less visible symphonic band.
"He's done a phenomenal job of recruiting good students and emphasizing the importance of musicianship," said Chancellor Charlie Nelms, who is now trying to raise the $600,000 needed to send the band to Pasadena for the big parade on New Year's Day. "There are a lot of bands that can put on a good show. But this man understands musicianship, too."
He understands his students, too, perhaps because he, like many of them, came from modest circumstances.
Reid still remembers an all-county band competition he performed in using an oboe borrowed from his school. It was a rudimentary instrument with a "Dade County Public Schools" stamp on it. Next to him, a young woman rolled her eyes at him as she performed on her silver-plated oboe, one Reid says was probably worth $8,000.
At NCCU, few students own their instruments, opting instead to use those owned by the university.
To many students, Reid is something of a father figure offering firm, wise guidance, said Marilyn Clements, president of the band's booster club.
"He can, all in one breath, build a student up and correct him when he's wrong," said Clements, a band member herself from 1970 to 1974. "He's very concerned and very dedicated to his students, but when they mess up, he tells them."
Chalmers, the former drum major, said that while Reid isn't an overtly rah-rah leader, his drive and leadership inspires.
Looking back at his time at NCCU, Chalmers said he might have even predicted the Marching Sound Machine would make its way to Pasadena someday.
"When [Reid] got here, I knew something great would happen," he said.
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