Repeat Performance

Tucker County music teacher comes home to lead the band she loves

By Steve Butera | 12/06/09

Hambleton, W.Va. —- While her students played a rendition of “Freeze Frame” at the Tucker County High School Field, Heather Lantz said she’s living her dream job.

“I’ve always wanted to do something with music,” she said about teaching her pep band class at Tucker County High School, the school she graduated from in 2004. “By my senior year, I figured out that I wanted to teach, I wanted to come back here.”

The 2004 T.C.H.S. graduate returned home in 2008 after graduating from West Virginia Wesleyan College and getting married.

Lantz teaches not only the high school band class and pep band, she also serves as band teacher for Davis-Thomas Middle School. She makes the 20-minute commute daily, teaching a total of six to seven classes. She also teaches after-school and private lessons with her students.

“I love every second of it. People ask me if I like my job, and I say I love it. It’s busy; it’s a lot of time, and it’s a lot of dedication,” she said.

The school has struggled to retain band directors. At least seven different music teachers have rotated through the position since Lantz was a freshman at T.C.H.S., nine years ago she said.

“They changed rooms, they changed directors; each director had a different way of teaching,” Lantz said.

Alix Lilly, the current T.C.H.S. drum major, was a product of such staff changes.

“Even the version of our fight song changed three times a year; the national anthem changed three times a year,” she said. “And then (Lantz) just said, ‘OK, we’re playing this and we’re not switching them,’ and I’m like, ‘Wait, we’re sticking with something?’”

Lantz said she went through two different band directors herself while she was in school. She thinks that continuity is one of the strengths she brings to the students. “It means a lot to them knowing I’ll be there every day, that I’ll be here next year.”

Over the years, the number of students taking part dwindled to single digits. Since Lantz took the reins in 2008, the band roster has more than tripled to near 35 students. People are noticing the stability of leaders in the music department, and want to help the pep band. Several local people and some nationally-known businesses donated to the department. VH1’s Save the Music Program and the Clorox Company (which owns county industry giant, Kingsford Coal) gave a combined total of $35,000 to the band.

“Hearing they’re proud of what’s being done, that is huge to me.” Lantz said.

The money raised will be going to new band uniforms and some new equipment.

Because of the limited amount of students and her expectations for the band, Lantz recruited her older brother to play. Lantz said he recently had free time between work to play the trumpet during performances.

“My brother has always loved the band,” she said, “he played when he was in high school… he said he wanted to get back into playing… and he had a blast”.

Despite the troubles with shortages in students and using older equipment, Lantz said she’s living in a perfect world. “In my interview, I said this is what I want to do, this is my dream job. I’m not here to teach college, I’m don’t want to go on to teach anywhere else,” Lantz said. “I don’t know how it could be much better,” she continued.

And her love in her job will leave a lasting impact to her students.

Lilly agreed, saying tearfully, “somebody actually believed in us for once.”

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