Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Highlands Director of Bands takes dedication to new levels

Lori Duncan conducting (provided)

by Colin Moore

Most teachers have a pretty full timetable during the school year but Highlands’ Director of Bands Lori Duncan really takes it to a new level. With classes during the day, marching band practices, plus football games on Friday, plus competitions on Saturday life is pretty busy. Oh, and throw in a middle school jazz band and a high school jazz band, each practicing an evening a week... And concert band and pep band... And winter guard and winter percussion... And the music honors society once every two weeks... The list is almost endless. Her work life may be full on but you can tell that it’s still something that she loves, even after eighteen years in the job, the last seventeen of which have been at Highlands.

“I always knew I wanted to do something with music.”

Lori graduated from U.K. in music education. She took a job at Paris Elementary in Paris, Kentucky and loved it. “I really loved teaching elementary music but I always wanted to be a band director.” The very next year fortune smiled on her when the job at Highlands came up. “I love the community and I really wanted to come home.” She applied and got the job.

While Lori admits that her average week is “hectic” she also points out that it’s that way because that’s how she wants it to be. “Nobody came to me and said we have to have all these things but we have kids who love band, they love music and as long as they keep coming and loving it that much I’ll keep doing whatever to meet their needs and make sure they’re happy. I get there in the morning and they’re hanging in the band room, it’s so great to see what it means to them.”

“It’s such a neat thing to see the kids perform, watching them get ready for a concert. I love giving them a piece of music they’ve never seen before, working until they can play it and then watching them perform in front of their parents and friends. With the marching band it’s thinking of a theme and working with them up to a competition. At the competition, I just have to walk to the side, I can teach them it but during the competition you just have to let them do it.”
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In an average week Lori works with an amazing number of students. The middle school bands are organized in grades, so there are approximately fifty students each from 6th, 7th and 8th grades. At high school level there are fifty-seven students in the band but because there are so many percussion members, the classes are split into two: one for brass and woodwind and one for percussion. Lori’s experience is also pretty unique among teachers because unlike some who might teach and influence a pupil for maybe a year, Lori’s students are often with her from 6th grade until 12th.

“I see the kids for seven years which I guess makes it pretty unique. I can really form a close bond with them. Some of them go on to play in marching bands or pep bands in college. I’ll turn on a basketball game and I’ll catch a glimpse of them playing on TV. Some of my former students are now band directors themselves, so I’ve competed against them. It’s so neat to see how music has stayed with them.”

Over the years Lori’s bands have had some really special experiences. “Last year the concert and jazz bands took a trip to Chicago and performed at a museum and at Northwestern University. It was a pretty neat experience.” Some of the best experiences though have been with the marching band at championships.

This week the marching band will be competing in Grand Nationals at Lucasoil Stadium in Indianapolis, for the fourth time under Lori’s tutelage. The best ninety bands from across the country compete in a three-day tournament. As well as being a chance to prove themselves among the best bands in the country, it’s also an amazing experience for the kids just to play in a stadium like Lucasoil, which has hosted the Superbowl and NCAA Final Four.

Even with her stellar career so far, Lori still has unfinished business with the marching band. In her seventeen years she’s taken the marching band to state championships nine times. Even though this is a fantastic record in itself, she’d still like to take them further. “It’s very competitive, it’s kind of like March Madness for bands. I think we’ve finished in every place but the top four. We been fifth, sixth, seventh, we’ve got so close but just never managed it. I think that’s the one thing I haven’t done yet that I’d like to.”

Lori is quick to point out that none of the band’s successes would be possible without the amazing Highlands community. “We’re supported by the school, providing music and instrument repairs and the middle and high school boards. The band boosters do an amazing amount of stuff to support us, paying for extras and building or buying props. The Fort Thomas Education Foundation have given us thousands of dollars to buy instruments. One of the reasons we have so many percussionists is because they’ve given us so much to buy equipment.”

While the support the band receives from the community is great, it’s fair to say that without Lori’s dedication and inspiration the band, and by extension the entire Highlands community, would be a poorer place.


Highlands High School marching band is playing in Grand Nationals starting this Thursday, November 9th at Lucasoil Stadium, Indianapolis.

1 comment:

  1. Lori Duncan is a prime example why KY teachers are deserving of a sound pension program that delivers all that it promised!!
    She is quite a dedicated professional!
    Best of luck!

    ReplyDelete