Nathan Haymer hoped he would get 300 applications, but he received a record 434 for Southern University’s High School Band and Dance Team Camp.
“The school has been doing this camp for 17 years, and until this year, last year was the biggest with 237 kids,” said Haymer, Southern’s interim director of bands and coordinator of the 2014 camp that ran from June 23-27.
“This year, I only had 70 applications on the Monday before camp was to begin … and 250 by Thursday,” Haymer said .
But the applications poured in on Friday.
“It was a surprise,” Haymer said. “I had to go to the administration for help.”
They allowed Haymer to hire Brian Simmons, a recent graduate, as assistant band director. Simmons also will work with Haymer in the fall.
“This is bigger than a Louisiana thing,” Haymer said. “The kids have come here from as far north as Detroit and from as far west as Washington state. They’ve come from big cities like Dallas and Atlanta, and from small towns.”
Though the camp is designed for high school students, applications from a few seventh- and eighth-graders also were accepted.
Trumpeter Greg Auguiste traveled from his home in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. The 16-year-old learned of the band camp when Haymer conducted a band clinic at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School, where Auguiste will be a junior in the fall.
“I wanted to come last year, but I couldn’t afford it,” Auguiste said.
He also couldn’t afford it this year.
“But I told him to come on,” Haymer said. “I told him that we have an alumni association that would help him out.”
Auguiste gathered in Haymer’s office with fellow trumpeters Jaron Williams and Carl Lajaunie.
Williams, 17, will be a senior in the fall at Landry Wallace High School in New Orleans. Lajaunie, 17, will be a senior at Jeanerette High School.
This is Lajaunie’s second time attending the camp.
“My band director is a Southern graduate,” Lajaunie said. “I started playing in the band in the fifth grade, and my elementary school band director was a graduate of Southern, too.”
Williams learned about the camp by word of mouth.
“It’s hard work,” he said of the camp’s day-to-day schedule.
“We’re only getting a taste of what the freshman have to go through when they come here to try out during preseason,” Lajaunie said.
The schedule is rigourous. All campers are housed in the university’s dormitories. They must be awake by 6 a.m. and in the cafeteria for breakfast at 7 a.m.
And as the Southern University Human Jukebox Marching Band saying goes, “If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late.”
It’s a saying passed down from the band’s late director Isaac Greggs to former director Lawrence Jackson, whose retirement becomes official July 1. Now Haymer is reinforcing the saying with campers.
After breakfast, it’s on the field by 9 a.m. to work on their marching skills. Music rehearsals are set before and after lunch, then it’s back on the field in the evening.
“We don’t leave the field until 11:30 p.m. or midnight,” Williams said.
But the three trumpeters agree the work is worth it.
“Southern’s band is the best,” Lajaunie said. “There’s not another band like them in the nation.”
“And no one can beat Southern’s sound,” Williams said. “I’m definitely going to try out for the band after I graduate.”
Lajaunie and Auguiste say they will, too. With that, the trio rejoined their fellow campers in the Isaac Greggs Band Hall to rehearse the music to be performed during the highlight of the week — a halftime show performed by campers on the last day of camp.
Southern band alumni were there to judge it, and though they’re just high school students, the campers were expected to perform with Human Jukebox precision.
“We have some great kids here, and a lot of them have asked to audition for Southern’s band while they’re at camp,” Haymer said. “These kids are the future of the Southern University Marching Band.”