On a chilly, overcast Tuesday afternoon, I went to visit Richmond Hill Middle School, which was already being overrun by students scampering off to the parking lot eager to leave school in their school buses and parents’ cars to finally go home.
But there was one group of kids who stayed behind to work even more.
Inside the school building, I visited the ‘Wildcat Winds’, a select group of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders at Richmond Hill Middle School already enrolled in the school band who wish to seek out more opportunities in music.
A large group of students–around 40 kids—eagerly tuned up their instruments, creating a cacophony of noise that reminded me of my own grade school music classes. But soon after, all the chatter and commotion died down and the sharp sounds were replaced with melodic beats and rhythms orchestrated by experienced band director Dr. Emery Warnock.
Warnock, who recently returned to Wildcat Winds after leaving in 2011, is an experienced middle school band director who has worked with a variety of young concert bands.
“I love the music, working with music, and challenging the kids every single day,” Warnock said.
The students audition for ‘Wildcat Winds’ before the school year starts, and are selected soon after, said Erica Minton, the president of the Richmond Hill Middle School Band Booster Club.
A Colorado native and Wildcat parent, Minton is in her third and final year as part of the Booster Club, seeing as her kids are moving on to high school. Minton believes that both the band and Wildcats Winds helps offer an outlet to kids either not interested or unable to participate in extracurriculars like sports.
“Some kids may not want to do sports or just don’t have the time, so this gives them an outlet to try something new [at Richmond Hill Middle School],” Minton said.
With Wildcat Winds, students practice twice a week, with around four Saturday sessions set aside for outside music conductors to help teach as enrichment and to help with concert preparation.
“One of the great things about Wildcat Winds is that the practices are right after school, so it does make it easier for both students and parents that kids don’t have to rush back home and come back later [in the evening],” Minton said.
As the kids practice in the background, Minton tells me that Richmond Hill Middle School is set to perform at the University of Georgia’s prestigious Middle School Band Festival, known as MidFest, in early December.
Richmond Hill Middle School is just one of two middle school bands in the state of Georgia invited to perform as Guest Bands, and were ultimately given the honor after a lengthy submission process.
“It’s such a great opportunity for these kids—they’ve been working so hard and they’re really excited,” Rebecca Maish, the second Wildcat Winds band director and Connections teacher, says.
Many of the kids agree that events like UGA’s MidFest make the long practices worth it.
Selah, an eighth-grader in Wildcat Winds, says that the opportunities with Wildcat Winds are so different from what she usually does with cross-country and her other extracurriculars. “You get to go on these cool trips and learn a lot about music,” Selah said. Sahaj, a seventh-grader, also agrees that the enrichment opportunities with Wildcat Winds are very unique and make the program special.
“There are a lot of scholarship opportunities available [with Wildcat Winds] if you want to pursue music and the trips help out with that,” Sahaj said.
MidFest will occur from Thursday, Dec. 7th to Saturday, Dec. 9th.
Before setting off to Athens, The Wildcat Winds will perform a home concert at Richmond Hill Middle School at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 16. The concert is free and open to the public.