Mural gives spirit to band room

Published 9:03 pm Saturday, August 11, 2012

Artist Michael Graves explains the details of the mural he painted in the Nansemond River High School band room honoring the Mighty Marching Warriors.

A sharply-dressed drum major surveys the band practice room at Nansemond River High School.

Behind him, musicians and dancers pour into the room in full dress, carrying their instruments and preparing to entertain the crowd with their routines.

The only thing that seems out of place is that the room is completely silent. And there’s a casket in front of the drum major with a headstone marked “Competition.” And there’s an Indian in a loincloth kneeling in front of the band.

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The scene is portrayed on the cinderblocks of the back wall of the band room. The 22-by-17-foot mural, unveiled Thursday, was created by Michael Graves, a former band member at the school.

“I learned everything about life right here in this room,” said Graves, who graduated in 1993 and was the snare drum section leader. “Whatever I did for this band, I had to do it epic.”

The idea of a mural came from band director Ed Woodis, who paid Graves with money from band fundraisers. He wanted to inspire current and future students and remind them of the history of the school and its band.

“It’s a very rich band tradition here,” Woodis told a crowd of about 60 who came to the unveiling. “I respect tradition.”

Graves took inspiration from his days in the marching band, as well as the uniforms, the school’s history and just a little bit of fantasy.

He painted the band marching onto the field through a cloud of red smoke because he always thought it would have a nice effect, he said. A violinist is portrayed because, well, in his world the Warrior marching band has a violin.

The musicians in the mural wear both old-school and current uniforms. In the grandstands, band members from John Yeates High School and John F. Kennedy High School — the schools that combined to form NRHS in 1989 — sit watching the performance.

The casket shows that the band has bested the competition, and the kneeling Indian warrior is blessing the band with heart and spirit.

The mural is surrounded by a black frame so future band members can add their signatures.

“This whole thing is about merging the old with the new and letting the band know that we still have their back,” Graves said.

Invitees to the unveiling ceremony included former band members and directors, including those from John Yeates and John F. Kennedy.

“It’s really nice to see some of the old students who opened the school,” said Michael Carson, who directed the band from 1990 to 1999. “I’m proud of [Carson] as an artist. It’s good to see them all productive citizens. When I was teaching, you kind of wonder if the kids are even listening, then you see them and they repeat everything you said to them. It makes it worthwhile.”

Jason Taylor, who directed the band from 2000 to 2001 and also graduated from NRHS in 1995 after playing alto saxophone in the band, said the mural is great for the school and the city.

“Nansemond River has kind of set the standard for music in our area,” said Taylor, the current band director at King’s Fork High School.

It seems the mural already is inspiring the first generation of students who will practice under the watchful gaze of the silent drum major.

“It was really creative,” said Keviana Lamb, who is a member of the Wings of Fire flag troupe. “You can tell he actually marched here.”

“It had a lot of heart,” added Eboni Felton, flag captain. “It made me feel special.”