East Mississippi Community College Assistant Band Director Ben Neal, at left, instructs students during a March 25 band clinic at New Hope High School. EMCC and New Hope sponsored the band clinic for middle and high school students.

April 3, 2024

Two renowned percussionists who serve as judges for some of the top band competitions in the nation conducted a clinic for middle and high school band students and their band directors that was provided free of charge thanks to a collaboration between East Mississippi Community College and New Hope High School.

EMCC paid the fees of the clinic presenters while New Hope High School provided the site for the clinic, which took place March 25 in New Hope’s band hall.

About 50 middle and high school students from Clay, Lauderdale, Lowndes and Neshoba counties took part in the Golden Triangle Area Percussion Symposium. Tyler Nicholson was among eight EMCC Mighty Lion Band members who also participated in the clinic.

“It’s been a good experience,” Nicholson said during a break from the training session. “I’ve got to learn from others with a different perspective and share some knowledge with the younger students.”

The presenters for the clinic were Jeff Ausdemore and Terry Sanders, two life-long music educators and performers who rose to prominence in the field.

Ausdemore is president and CEO of Stryvemind.com, an online music educational platform. Among other things, he also serves as the percussion supervisor, arranger and music writer for the Blue Knights Drum & Bugle Corps in Denver, touted as one of the most successful drum and bugle corps in the world. Ausdemore also provides clinics to percussion ensembles and consults with band and percussion directors across the country.Terry Sanders, at left, and Jeff Ausdemore, both of whom are renowned percussionists, conducted a band clinic March 25 for middle and high school students that was sponsored by East Mississippi Community College and New Hope High School.

Sanders retired from teaching in 2019 after 34 years as the director of percussion at Escambia High School in Pensacola, Florida, earning more than 40 marching band awards during his tenure. He led the acclaimed Diamonds Indoor Percussion to regional championships and finalists in world championships. He serves as a percussion consultant to schools across the Southeast and writes, composes and arranges for fall football shows.

Both Ausdemore and Sanders serve as championship-level judges for marching and percussion competitions throughout the country.

“We have incredibly hardworking kids in our schools and bringing in world-class educators and clinicians like Jeff and Terry is only going to make them better,” said EMCC Assistant Director of Bands Ben Neal, who also serves as the director of percussion.

Much of the clinic was centered around hands-on instruction for students on various percussion instruments, including snare, bass and tenor drums, and xylophones.

The students learned how grip, angle, pressure and relaxing or tightening muscle groups in the hands, wrists, forearms and shoulders can change an instrument’s musical pitch and accent, with the complexity of the exercises increasing as the clinic progressed.

“I pretty much show students what I had to learn later on during my career,” Ausdemore said after the clinic was over. “Some of those things that I ended with are really difficult and it will take years to take it all in, but they can apply it now. They can slowly get better every day.”

While the students were working with Ausdemore, Sanders provided pointers to the band directors. The two alternated instruction between the two groups.

“For the band directors, I talked about show design, show choices, color schemes and picking programs that are right for their communities, as well as their high school programs,” Sanders said. “For Friday night football, everybody won’t understand some of the classical music they choose to play. Their bands will probably be a lot more popular if they pick that song that the crowd understands and is used to hearing. Then you have your competitions where you have more challenging charts that need to be adhered to when you are judged.”

The impetus for the event occurred last year when Neal and two students with the Mighty Lion Band attended the Percussive Arts Society International Convention in Indianapolis. Ausdemore and Sanders were judges for an event in which one of the EMCC students was competing. Neal and Ausdemore discovered they had attended the same college in New Mexico, although years apart.

“I threw out the idea of coming to Mississippi to teach our high school students and that’s how it all came about,” Neal said. “I didn’t expect it to happen this quickly, but Jeff said, ‘Give me the dates and I will make it work.’”

Neal and EMCC Mighty Lion Band Director Chris King ran the idea for the clinic by New Hope High School Assistant Band Director Ryan Jobe, who also serves as the school’s director of percussion. He approached school officials about hosting the event.

“I am very thankful to our administration here at New Hope for allowing us to host the event,” Jobe said. “We are on spring break this week so it doesn’t interfere with classes. It worked out really well for us. We plan to make this an annual event and I think it will definitely grow.”

King said some band students have never attended a clinic.

“The opportunity to work with guys like Jeff and Terry is a chance of a lifetime for some of these kids,” King said. “This will not only boost the skill level of the students but it will also boost their confidence in playing.”

Both Ausdemore and Sanders said opportunities are abundant for those band students who choose music as a profession, thanks in part to the advent of the internet.

“There are actually more opportunities now than there were when I was coming up,” Sanders said. “We kind of had to forge our way into a lot of positions to where now it is kind of the commonplace thing, even in the recording industry. You can record your guitar track in California. I can record my drum track in Pensacola, Florida, then we can have a singer in New Jersey. We can all work together through Zoom or just by emailing each other the mp3 files and uploading them into a musical program and sending it someplace else.”

Ausdemore agreed.

“One thing I like to remind students of is that even if their path is not performance or music education, there are many, many fields where they can still be involved in music and make a living,” Ausdemore said. “There are music producers, technicians, audio recorders and engineers and administrators. The list goes on and on. They could still be in the musical world, just adjacent to performing themselves.”