The band looks different from behind the desk.
Nathan Haymer never really understood this until June, when Southern University’s Director of Bands Lawrence Jackson suddenly announced his retirement.
Jackson warned no one, not even Haymer, his assistant band director.
“He told me when I first came to work here that he would be band director between eight and 10 years,” Haymer says. “He told me to be ready, and he also told me that the band looked different sitting in the chair behind the desk than it did sitting in the one in front of it.”
Haymer thought about it. He was working with the same Southern University Human Jukebox Marching Band as Jackson. He knew all the names and faces.
“But I didn’t realize how the roles were different,” Haymer says. “There are a lot of things I didn’t have to worry about as the assistant band director, but as band director, I have to take care of all the administrative work while attending to all of the problems with the band.”
Those issues could range from putting a halftime show in place to band members’ personal problems. It’s all on Haymer’s shoulders now. He’s the guy sitting behind the band director’s desk.
And he’s surrounded himself with a young, up-and-coming staff who not only knows Southern’s band program but were once a part of it.
“I’m the oldest at 36,” Haymer says.
Percussion Assistant Lorenzo Hart follows at age 34, then former Baker High School Band Director Kedric Taylor follows at age 30. The youngest is 22-year-old Brian Simmons, who only last year was in the band, leading the baritone section.
“I was grooming Brian for this job,” Haymer says. “He didn’t know it at the time.”
Haymer didn’t realize that the same thing was happening to him during his trombone-playing days in the Human Jukebox. Jackson was the band’s music arranger back then. Haymer filled that job when Jackson was named director upon retirement of Isaac Greggs, who died earlier this year.
“But Mr. Jackson didn’t want to stay 36 years like Dr. Greggs,” Haymer says. “So he said it would be between eight and 10 years. That was the first year. The second year, he said it would be seven to nine years, then six to eight. Last year, he said it was between four and 16.”
Jackson was paring it down to months by that time.
“He called me to his office on the last Thursday in May,” Haymer says. “His office was empty, and he said, ‘It’s your turn now.’ It took eight years.”
Haymer was born in Baton Rouge and grew up in Gulfport, Mississippi. He returned to Baton Rouge to attend Southern, where he earned his degree in music education. He then landed a job as band director at Lake Charles High School, where he stayed until he was 28 years old.
“My band came to Southern for a marching band competition in 2004,” Haymer says. “We won, and Mr. Jackson asked if I would be interested in coming back to Southern as an assistant band director during the competition.”
Now, preseason practice is complete and from 270 tryouts, the band is down to 225 member. Southern opened its season Saturday out of town against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Haymer promised new innovations at halftime for that game, saying fans would be surprised by the band’s new formations. Focus now is on the Jaguars’ game against Northwestern State University on Saturday, Sept. 6, when Haymer makes his director of bands debut on the Mumford Stadium home fireld.
Drum major Keith Morgan is ready. As he sees it, Haymer and the young staff bring a new energy to the band.
“I loved being in the band under Mr. Jackson, but Mr. Haymer’s style is different,” Morgan says. “They’re energized, and it’s exciting.”
“And it’s amazing to see the respect the kids have for the staff,” Haymer adds. “We’re young, and there aren’t that many years between their ages and ours. They’re excited, because this is a new innovation. And we have a rapport with them.”
Haymer and his staff expect more from band members.
“Mr. Jackson was more like a father figure to them,” Haymer says. “I’m more like the stern uncle or older brother. I’m not as compassionate, and I demand a little more.”
“I know as I get older, I’ll probably be more like Mr. Jackson as the father figure,” Haymer says.
Remaining intact in the midst of these changes are the Human Jukebox’s traditions. The marching style, the game-day rituals — all of it will be there.
The Dancing Dolls are also back, but in smaller numbers.
“I cut them down from 11 to nine,” Haymer says. “That number — 11 — never sat well with me. And with nine, they’re more exclusive, and a smaller number sets us apart from the rest of the schools. If it doesn’t work, we can always go back to 11.”
Haymer knows all eyes will be on the band this year, and he’s ready.
“There is so much tradition here,” he says. “The band’s been in existence for 80 years. But I’m not afraid to try anything new.”