By Paul Stinson
It was the Monday before Jamboree at LBJ High School and neither LBJ Director of Bands Byron Goble nor the trio of drum majors gathered in his office knew how large the prowl of marching Jaguars would be on the big day.
“We have random amount of people showing up,” LBJ senior and drum major Manuel Lopez said. “It’s not always guaranteed that the person is going to come and that’s mostly due to work or personal reasons—so we kind of have to work around those.”
In a predominantly Black, Latino and low-income community hit especially hard by Covid, students are asked to take care of sick parents and provide for their families.
Goble said that striking the balance between exercising grace and understanding while holding students accountable to their commitment so the band can accomplish something and perform.
“Kids are having to be adults a little bit,” he said.
Staffing is just one of the many challenges facing the band as the East Austin school enters year two of rebranding and rebuilding following the departure of sister school Liberal Arts and Science Academy moved out of its shared LBJ digs and into new campus in 2021, taking most of the band with it.
“I think we can be proud of the fact the kids can play the music,” said Goble, who ascended to the leadership role following the departure of Darrell Williams. “The band can play the whole show, it’s just a matter of getting everything together in terms of our drill as well.”
No small feat, considering the marching Jaguars lost their first week of band camp to Covid and the challenges of running a music department without an assistant.
“I’m teaching guitar, band, piano, choir—sometimes simultaneously, which is not really possible,” said Goble.
Former LBJ band director of 40 years Don Haynes said that the program that once numbered between 150 and 250 students will take time to revive and reinvent itself.
“When LASA left, that hurt,” said Haynes, who is also the voice at the Burger Activity Center during the annual Jamboree. "Then Covid came and that was like a tornado ripping through your neighborhood. You don’t just rebuild overnight.”
Part of that rebuild and reinvention includes programming that reflects the LBJ community it represents, including the embrace of the music and show-style vibrancy on display by Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs.
LBJ’s Head Drum Major Rayna Joiner, whose visibility has been on the rise in Austin while plying her skills to Austin Pride and Juneteenth parades, said she was inspired to join the band after feeling the joy emanating from the risers during the school’s first-ever football state championship game.
“I heard the songs they were playing in the stands and it sounded really fetchy, funky … it was good to hear and see,” she said.
“The HBCU runs in the blood and it feels good,” she said. “My grandpa is alumni for Prairie View A&M University,” which is one of the nation’s 107 HBCUs, nine of which—including Prairie View A&M University—call Texas home.
“My idea is let’s celebrate all of the cultures that make up this school,” said Goble. “We have over 30 percent African American students at this school one of the largest concentrations in the sistrict and a very large population of Hispanic students.” said Goble,
He said he's also like to see the band play some cumbias and tunes from the radio.
“I really want to do a mixture of a lot of different things,” said senior drum major Marco Estrada, one of the original five members who showed last summer for LBJ’s summer band camp as the school began its next chapter. “Last year I was introduced to the world of HBCU bands and that’s really something I fell in love with and something I definitely want to bring to the table.”
Estrada, who experienced the Jamboree when LASA was still part of the band, said he couldn’t wait to get onto the field.
“It’s definitely going to be exciting trying to see what progress we can make since day one last year.”
Looking ahead, Joiner said she’s optimistic that the band’s ranks will continue to grow.
"I just got a lot of faith in this year. Just put a lot of faith in the ones around you and it feels pretty good,” she said.