By Robert Lucke
Ask any Havre High School alum under the age of 40 about the band program at HHS and chances are youll hear plenty about Ron Coons, who has been the band director at the high school for the last 12 years.
Band is over. They all have been out marching, for after all, it is football season and this is Havre. Coons is waiting for the bell to signal the period is over. He chides one boy for leaning on a music stand with the admonition that it is really nice for Havre taxpayers to provide stands. A girl talks with a friend and swears under her breath. Coons catches that as well, telling her to solve her problem or someone will solve it for her. All part of teaching in 1999.
After 22 years in teaching and teaching band, is it all getting old for Coons?
Some things are getting old, but I like kids. Some of them are turkeys, but youve got to work with them all, Coons said. Take that girl who was swearing. I dont know about you, but my parents would not have allowed that. Times are changing.
For Coons, a Polson native, Havre band and music is a dream come true.
Its been a dream come true for me. There is everything here that I have always wanted, Coons added. Good kids to work with, good school system and I work with a great partner, Dave Carlson. (Carlson is the middle school band director). Its very good to work in a community with such a great band tradition. You know my first years were with C.I. Carlson. He judged my first band in Broadus and judged the first solo I performed in Polson. I grew up in Polson and my first band director was one of Carlsons students, Dick Shlatter.
Talk about band numbers. Between middle school and high school, Carlson and Coons see lots of people every day.
We have about 110 in the sixth-grade program, 250 in the middle school and 150 in the high school, Coons said. It is an up and going program. There are more in band now than there ever were.
Compare that with 65 students in band when Coons got to Havre. These days there is, in the high school alone, a Pony Band, a Varsity Band, a Symphonic Band, and a Pep Band. Some students take two bands a day just to learn a couple of different instruments. Since Coons has been here in Havre, he has seen 20 to 25 of his students go into music careers and he doesnt know how many still play music regularly somewhere or other.
Why such a band increase? Coons attributes it to several different things.
We got a lot of help in those first years from administrators Pat Conway, Ric Floren and Jeff Pratt. And it helped that Dave Carlson and I worked well together and that we have the same philosophy, Coons stated. At one time the philosophy was that if a student couldnt make band, you told him to do something else. Our philosophy is geared toward students that do not have a strong music background. We keep them as long as we can. We ask them to cooperate and to try. If they do that, I will find a place for them.
One reason for that philosophy, Coons said, was that he was not a strong player in grade school and a band director in high school had patience to teach him how to do it. In Coons own words, I couldnt play my way out of a wet paper sack.
Because it was hard for Coons to learn to play, his patience with his own students is great.
Coons attributes continued success of the program to current administrators, his friend Carlson and even Havre coaches.
Havre has the best coaches. They respect everybody and are understanding, Coons said with a smile. They share kids with us and always thank us when we play for their games. That does not happen everywhere.
The greatest difficulty through the years is a mixed bag.
The hardest thing is that when we started 12 years ago there were two teaching band with half the students. Now one of the prices of success is that we have twice as many kids and there are still just two of us. It is not that I am complaining, it is just hard. I cannot give the kids the individual attention that I used to, Coons said.