Unstoppable Inspiration: Edward Woodis continues to inspire NRHS band students

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Suffolk Public Schools’ Edward Woodis continues to inspire his students. The Nansemond River High School Band Director has been the school’s musical backbone for 23 years. Since his start in 2001, Woodis has been in charge of the band program, leading both NRHS marching and concert bands. Likewise, Woodis also started both the school’s jazz band program in 2004 and the strings program for teaching orchestra.

On his musical beginnings as a kid, Woodis says that he started by playing orchestra in a community group called the Tidewater Area Musicians, which was a part of the National Association of Negro Musicians. He reflected on being taught by his late orchestra teacher.

“And there was an orchestra teacher that was raising my family. Her name was Geraldine Harding, the late Geraldine Harding. And she got me into playing violin, and that was in the fifth grade, I believe. I played instruments then all during that time, and then by the time I got to high school, I picked up tuba,” Woodis said. “I continued on through it because there was a band director who was kind of like a legend in our city. It was Fears. Emery Fears… Once I experienced him as a professor, and he was a professor at Norfolk State University, that’s what inspired me to really want to be in band. The kind of instructor person he was I guess had that effect on me. It was just something that was, he made that much of an impression on me.”

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After completing his studies in electronic engineering at Norfolk State University, Woodis served as an electronics technician in the military. Despite this, he still had the call to work in music as a band director. After leaving the military in the early 1990s, Woodis returned to school to receive his degree in music.

“Went from there, started teaching, went right into it. My first job was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And I stayed there for five years and ended up coming back home here, and I have been here in Nansemond River ever since,” Woodis said.

Woodis and his students have won various awards and participated in the Sugar Bowl and the Macy’s Holiday Parade in Orlando, Florida. However, Woodis says that it has always been about the students. Reflecting on former students such as Rosalyn Banks (also known as Haze Banks), now a hip hop and rap music producer, and Natalia Perez, a music producer and songwriter in California.

“Seeing kids that do that and some are teaching now, they’re band directors and music teachers all over the place. That’s the kind of thing that always sticks with me… and just the kids in general, not the ones just in music, but the ones that do everything,” Woodis said. 

Woodis also shared one former student that impacted him throughout his career.

“The late Nathan Michael Smith. He was a state trooper, and he died about nine years ago, a little while ago. Tragic accident. He was a state trooper, but above all of that, he was that kind of person that I will never forget. Those are the things that I will always have with me.”

Finally, Woodis expressed what he hopes his students will continue to take away from his teachings. 

“Hopefully, they will always take away that their love for music can just take them anywhere. What they learn from me and what they learn from their experience in participating with their friends and so forth in band they can take it anywhere,” Woodis said. “I tell them all the time [that] band is one of the areas where you work with a large number, anywhere from 50 to 100 of your friends and you got to work together as a group to create something great. You’ll never be able to do that anywhere else. And to do that this young in life will automatically make you one of the best.”

“I say, ‘I don’t care what you want to do with your life. You can be a ditch digger in Chuckatuck, but you will be the best one that the city has ever seen. And don’t turn your nose up to the ditch digger because traditionally, that’s the people who became the City Planners. But that’s all about you doing your best and being your best at what you do. No matter what it is,” Woodis said. “…So I hope they will always take that with them no matter what they choose to do, whatever its music [or] whatever it is.”