CULLOWHEE – The new leader of Western Carolina University's Pride of the Mountains Marching Band is - drum roll, please - David Starnes, currently director of bands at Kennesaw Mountain High School in Kennesaw, Ga.
Starnes will be filling the well-worn shoes of Bob Buckner, retiring this summer after 20 years as director of athletic bands at WCU. The appointment is effective July 1.
"We are extremely excited about our bright future with David Starnes," said Matt Henley, assistant marching band director. "His successes as a band director are astonishing, and his fresh and energetic view on marching bands will take our program to even greater places. He is a consummate music educator, and our current bandsmen will certainly learn a great deal from him."
The selection of Starnes concludes a national search for a successor for a man who has developed WCU's marching band program into a point of pride for the university, said Henley.
Under Buckner's leadership, membership in the marching musical ensemble now known as the Pride of the Mountains has exploded from fewer than 90 to more than 400. During his tenure, the band received the 2009 John Philip Sousa Foundation's prestigious Sudler Trophy, the nation's highest and most-coveted award for college and university marching bands. Capping Buckner's career was a New Year's Day appearance in the Tournament of Roses Parade by the Pride of the Mountains, which was named "best band" in the parade in an online poll conducted by KTLATV of Los Angeles.
Starnes' career path shares some interesting parallels with that of Buckner. Starnes joined the music faculty at Kennesaw Mountain High School when the school opened in August 2000. Under his guidance, the school's band program has grown from 85 students to a membership of 250.
Like Western Carolina, the Kennesaw Mountain program received recognition from the Sousa Foundation; it was awarded the Sudler Shield of Excellence for outstanding achievement in high school marching band in 2003. And like the Pride of the Mountains, Starnes' marching musicians performed on a national stage on a national holiday; the Kennesaw band participated in the 79th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City in 2005.
Starnes said he is a long-time admirer of Buckner and the Pride of the Mountains, and is excited about the opportunity to be the band's next director.
"Western Carolina's marching band has a reputation in the college band world as being one of the most entertaining as well as innovative programs, while still maintaining an identity that makes it truly 'WCU.' It is my goal to continue to offer the same flavor and excitement that allowed this band to be named the fan favorite at the Tournament of Roses Parade in January 2011," he said.
"From an audience perspective, it is my intention to create an expectation of 'what will they do next?' The unique aspect of this band program is how entertainment, recognizable melodies, as well as high-energy performances have established the trademark for the Pride of The Mountains," Starnes said. "Knowing of this band's reputation for several years, it is what the performers, audience members and fans from around the country have come to expect – and which will continue, under my direction."
Since its formation, the Kennesaw Mountain band program has been recognized in all areas of performance for its achievements at local, state and national levels including concert band, jazz band, marching band, winter guard and winter percussion, said Henley.
The school's band has been a finalist six times at the Bands of America Grand National Championship, was named the 2004 Bands of America AAA National Champion, and is a four-time regional champion in Bands of America events.
The band participated in – and took first place - in the 2006 edition of the Tournament of Champions, the annual high school marching band competition hosted by the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band, which attracts top units from across the Southeast.
Starnes is sought out nationally and internationally as an adjudicator, clinician, guest conductor and creative designer. He served as an adjudicator for many state, national and international organizations including Bands of America, where he is a member of the Advisory Board; Winter Guard International; and Drum Corps International, where he served as an adjudicator and percussion caption head from 1998 until 2002.
A native of Chattanooga, Tenn., Starnes graduated magna cum laude (with high honors) from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville in 1988, where he earned a bachelor's degree in music education. He is married to architect Rhea Jeanne Starnes and has a 16-year-old daughter.