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Band directors’ award is a fitting ‘Encore’ for Tremayne Smith

After graduating from West Rowan High School in the spring of 2006, Tremayne Smith went to East Carolina University with ambitions to become a band director. Graduating five years later with a double major in music education and political science, he took a year off from following that dream to work in Sen. Kay Hagan’s office in Washington, D.C. The next summer his dream came true when he received a call offering him the position of band director at Rocky Mount High School in the eastern part of North Carolina.
Visiting with Tremayne a few weeks ago, I asked him to reflect on his first year as a teacher at Rocky Mount. With a big grin, in typical Tremayne style, he said, “I loved every minute of it, but have to admit it was overwhelming at times.”
Tremayne left Hagan’s office on a Thursday, reporting to Rocky Mount for band camp the next Monday. Most first-year teachers would have panicked, but not Tremayne because he had a plan in place with a vision and purpose for his students.
From the mid-1960s to the early 1990s, under the leadership of John C. Sykes, Jr., Rocky Mount had a 250-student marching band that was considered one of the best in the nation. After Sykes retired, the band never reached that potential again.
Knowing the program needed rebuilding, Tremayne realized he had three main areas to improve if he wanted a successful program. Those areas were dealing with conduct, lack of participation and musicality. Running a tight ship and, thus, gaining his students’ respect, it didn’t take long for Tremayne to turn things around. He said, “It’s easier to lighten up than tighten up.”
Looking beyond the first year, Tremayne’s vision includes a five-year plan to purchase new instruments, increase parent involvement, raise musicality and obtain a practice field for the band. Hearing that Tremayne already has met some of these goals, I wondered how he accomplished so much in just one year. “Easy,” Tremayne said. “I infused band performances into the school and community culture during occasions such as Black History Month, the Rocky Mount Special Olympics and the “Streetscape Ceremony,” where dignitaries including U.S. Congressman G.K. Butterfield were in attendance. With performances like these the program becomes not only visible, but important, thus gaining support from students, parents, the administration and community.”
Tremayne gives credit to his high school band director, Tammy Reyes, for showing him how it’s done. She impressed on him not only to make the program visible, but also to make it personal, both inside and outside the classroom. One way he accomplished this was by ending each class with a quote. This became even more personal for him, when he used a quote his maternal grandmother, Libby Blackwell, had shared. She said, “When you plant the seeds, your ancestors gather the fruit.”
Sharing that quote with his students, Tremayne then showed a picture of his great-great-grandfather, Enoch Cowan. Although Enoch’s parents had been slaves at one time, he later became the first teacher in his family, leading the way for generations to come. Encouraging his students to set their goals high like his great-great-grandfather, Tremayne explained they, too, could be paving the way for someone else to follow. Tremayne especially loved seeing the expression on their faces when they realized their actions do matter.
Even though Tremayne lives in Rocky Mount, he still finds time to come home for visits, including a visit in mid-July on his way back from taking two of his students to drum major camp at UNC-Charlotte. He said dropping those students off brought back memories of when Ms. Reyes had taken him to camp 10 years ago. Tremayne sees the camp experience as important because it teaches leadership skills applicable not only to band, but life.
During his first year of teaching, Tremayne implemented those skills so well he not only received Teacher of the Year at Rocky Mount, but also received the Encore Award. An award given to band directors throughout the country who have shown exceptional accomplishments in their individual programs, Tremayne was one of only four in North Carolina to receive the honor this year. The four honorees will be recognized in November at the Music Educators of North Carolina Conference in Winston Salem.
Tremayne has come a long way from playing his recorder at Cleveland Elementary School in music class, dreaming of someday majoring in music. For those who don’t see the value of the elementary music program, Tremayne said playing his recorder in fifth grade and later the xylophone at the N.C. Symphony Concert at Catawba College were what inspired him to pursue a musical career. He still remembers the song he played and the date. The song was, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” and the date was May 2, 1998.
That desire to perform was taken to another level for Tremayne at West Rowan Middle School, when band director, Vicki Williams, gave him the baton to lead the Star Spangled Banner. It was at that moment he saw the leadership side of performance, becoming more convinced than ever that was what he wanted to do.
Although following his dream has meant a lot of hard work, Tremayne knows how to have fun, as can be evidenced by a recent band camp practice at Rocky Mount. Making a deal with his students, he said he would let them out early if they could beat him at a race. The students, thinking this would be easy, were excited.
Little did they know their teacher had been a track star. Sure enough, Tremayne won the race, so no early end to practice that day. Tremayne’s comment about the event was, “Amused.”
With his first year as a teacher behind him, Tremayne now has an even better focus for his vision and goals. Like his teachers before him, he will continue to pass the baton on to the next generation. I’m sure if Enoch could see his great-great-grandson now, he would be proud. After all, “when you plant the seeds, your ancestors (students) gather the fruit.”

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