LHS Band Director inspires students to unleash full potential

Published 8:00 am Thursday, February 1, 2024

Alvin Wilson wants his students to be the best that they can be. Since 2007, the Smithfield native has worked to help his Lakeland High School band students reach even greater heights through hard work and discipline. Serving over 15 years as the school’s Band Director has seen students through various band competitions where they put their skills to the test. Wilson reflected on the band’s history.

“We’ve done several trips, several parades. We went to Washington, D.C., where we were there for four days and three nights as the band that was selected as the only band in the state of Virginia to participate in the official National Memorial Day Parade. They selected one band per state, and out of the 50 bands, we were represented in Virginia. We went down there and did a phenomenal job down there as well.”

Wilson commended his “hardworking” students, noting their discipline, love for music, and academic work.

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“So I’ve been really honored with an opportunity to work with a wonderful set of students that want to do things — and they follow my lead, they follow my vision — and they want success and they’re succeeding in everything that they do to be better students and better individuals when they graduate in everyday life,” Wilson said. “So music is just simply an attention getter to get them to be productive citizens when they become young adults. So I’m honored to be an advocate to be able to help them and help guide them toward their journey in the future.”

While Wilson saw musical beginnings thanks to his family, he says that he was mainly focused on trying to play sports. Despite this, he found himself participating with his elementary school band, which helped feed into their high school band.

“So I went into the band program in elementary school because my friends were doing it, and I wanted to do something to keep me actively engaged. So I started playing the trumpet in elementary school, and then it just blossomed,” he said. “And when I got into high school, I wanted to try myself in football. I thought I was going to be a professional football player.”

Wilson reflected that he was the last one on the team. Likewise, he also suffered from breaking his knee on the field.

“When I broke my knee, the doctor said if I ever got a good hit at that knee again, I’d never walk straight again. But he said, ‘What you need to do in your rehab is if you get into the band program, it will be able to strengthen your knee and get you to the point where one day you may be able to play football again,’” Wilson said. “So I actually got into band as a stepping stool to try to get me back into playing sports, but when I got in band I realized that this was my divine design because I excelled phenomenally fast and it was a wonderful experience. I loved what I was doing. I got in there and it just took right off.” 

Wilson says that he realized God had designed for him to move forward into band and continued participating throughout high school, deciding to take it seriously in his junior year. Following high school graduation, Wilson went on to Norfolk State University, where he continued performing in the band, going on to leadership and section leader positions in his sophomore year of college. Wilson, however, was focused on becoming a performer and musician instead of a band director. This changed during his college junior year as a school superintendent was looking for a band director and asked Wilson if he was interested in student teaching.

“And I was like, ‘Well, I’m not really looking toward doing anything in that realm, but I will do that’ because I needed a student teaching experience,” he said. “So I went to Surry County Public Schools and started student teaching and when I did that, it was doing so well because I was just doing what I was taught and doing what was working for me and my experience that I realized this is what I wanted to do. So I decided to go into directing and start performing as a supplementary thing because I was a jazz musician.” 

Wilson’s work in student teaching and band directing saw him helping students excel and win competitions, which saw Surry County offer him the opportunity to be the band director. From 1995 through 2001, Wilson served as Director of Bands for Surry County Public Schools, which saw various trips from Florida to New Orleans. In 2001, Wilson started work at Franklin City Public Schools as the division’s Director of Bands from 2001 through 2004. Noting their “phenomenal” work, Wilson says he had the honor of being the first African American band director in the city’s history.

“It was truly an honor and a privilege, and those students and community just … we had a wonderful experience there. The kids worked extremely hard. They were extremely disciplined and they love music,” Wilson said. “While I was there we did take several trips as well. We had taken a trip to Tennessee and we did many, many local trips as well and I started introducing them to a lot of things in regards to traveling and competition.”

Following Franklin, Wilson served as an Elementary School Music Teacher at Riverview Elementary School in Hertford County from 2004 through 2007. Noting his instrumental work, Wilson says working there allowed him to work on music from a chorus perspective and started the school’s elementary level chorus. Following his career at Riverview, Wilson received an opportunity to come to Lakeland High School in 2007 as the school was searching for a Band Director and has served ever since. Wilson talked about core skills that he teaches his students, including musicianship, a strong set of discipline, work ethic, and independence as part of the band.

“ … In order for us to become a strong band, you have to first become strong bandsmen, which means that you have to be able to be responsible and be able to be accountable for your own actions and what you bring to the table. So we can sound great as a band, but in order for us to sound great as a band, we all have to sound great as individual musicians,” Wilson said. “Now what I bring to the table may be different from what you bring to the table, but I focus them on being the best you that you can be. Because if you’re the best you [that] you can be, when you’re playing, you are going to put pride, you’re going to put energy and support into your musicianship and then together, when we come as a group, that makes that group sound that much better.” 

Finally, Wilson shared what his students will take away from his continued teachings, hoping they take away good moral values, a strong work ethic, and the desire to be the best they can be.

“I’m not there to create them to be professional musicians, but I am there to create them to be outstanding young men and young women and be the best whatever they decide to do in what they do, but if they are going to throw the music route, be the best musician that you can be,” Wilson said.