Mr. Van’s band takes a new direction
Under the guidance of a new sort of "Music Man," the Tonganoxie High school band is marching to a new beat.
It's no surprise that Tonganoxie's band director can keep up with the pace. He's setting it.
Charles VanMiddlesworth II, the man behind the band, peppers his speech with staccato-sounding "Oh yeahs" that crescendo as his enthusiasm grows.
His brown eyes sparkle as he bounces from topic to topic, and his lively hands seem to be directing a band no matter what he's doing. He's like a metronome that never winds down.
VanMiddlesworth, or "Mr. Van," as his students call him, says he hops out of bed every day at 6 a.m. and is usually at school from 7 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m., sometimes six days a week.
"I'm single right now, and all I care about is my job, I care about the kids, I really care about them," he said.
He said he performs his job as if he's the CEO of a large corporation.
"And the company is the band program."
Perhaps that's what it takes to do the job he does.
As the THS band director for the past year, VanMiddlesworth already is legendary among his students. Rachel Clark, a junior at Tonganoxie High School and drum majorette, said that since VanMiddlesworth came to town, the band had grown.
"Two years ago at the end of school we had 25 kids in band," Clark said. "On the first day of school this year, we had over 70."
What's his secret?
Clark used this year's county fair parade as an example. "When we were marching in the fair parade, he walked alongside us all the way and cheered us on, saying things like 'Come on band you're doing great!'"
She said VanMiddlesworth's attitude keeps students going. "He has so much energy that he's never down," she said. "I've never seen him in a bad mood not even when he's been up forever. When we were rehearsing for stage band last year, we'd practice for five hours, and even at 10 o'clock at night he still had energy."
So he moves fast and works hard. Lots of teachers do that. What makes VanMiddlesworth different?
"He sets a line for us," Clark said. "We know what he wants us to accomplish and he pushes us along. We don't really notice it at the time, but we just keep getting better."
Better may mean that the community is impressed, or maybe it's the fact four band members won top awards at state competition last year.
Maureen Mills, a band parent and president of the band's booster club, remembers the crowd's reaction when the band marched in formation and played during a home football game last year.
"The audience was very excited," she said.
Clark recalled the moment. "The crowd was going wild. Before Mr. Van came here we would march straight onto the field, play our music and walk off. Last year we all walked on to a cadence written by Brandon Kesinger. We had to march on and we were in line and in step and that first got their attention. Then we started to play and move in different directions. The crowd cheered, they were amazed."
That summit conquered, VanMiddlesworth decided to take five of his band students to the state high school competition in Salina last year. That led to another sort of awakening, VanMiddlesworth said.
"We stopped at a rest area on the way and we noticed that there were three busloads of music students from Lansing parked next to us. My students were in awe.
"I told them, 'Guys, that's going to be us in about three or four years. We're going to be taking busloads of people to state because I'm gonna teach you guys how to play the right way. We're going to learn and we're going to succeed.'"
The 25-year old Van-Middlesworth who grew up in Kansas City, Kan., and graduated from Bishop Ward High School, didn't have a strong musical experience in high school. Moreover, he never got to participate in a marching band until he went to college.
"There were only 10 kids in my high school band and we just played in the stage band no marching," he said.
He made up for his lack of training at Kansas University.
Robert Foster, KU band director, said that VanMiddlesworth had to work harder to catch up with students who had had more extensive musical training. "At first, the teachers had students who played better," Foster said. "But they didn't have kids who tried harder."
By the time VanMiddlesworth graduated, he was one of the university's top players, Foster said.
"So he's a great example of a person who, just by determination and hard work, learned to do what he wanted to do." As in Tonganoxie, he seemed to draw people to him like a magnet. "Every time he'd go to work on a project, everybody would start pulling for him," Foster said.
VanMiddlesworth said that happens to him frequently. "It's all about showing the people who are around you what your expectations are," he said.
And it's about capitalizing on their competitive nature. "When we were at the fair parade this year, the kids were disappointed when they saw that there was another band marching in the parade," he said.
"I said, 'Yeah, let's blow them away! Let's do it!' And they just rose to the occasion."
Speaking of parades, Van-Middlesworth said he has barely enough band uniforms right now. But he's not complaining.
"My goal is to run out of band uniforms," he said. "In two or three years I want to have 100 students in the band."