Historically Black Colleges and Universities carry a rich heritage and set of traditions that can never be replaced or duplicated. Over the past few years, HBCUs have rightfully gained much deserved attention for their contributions to Black society and the world. These institutions have gifted us numerous influential leaders, Black Greek Letter Organizations and the most iconic marching bands ever to grace the Earth.
At its core, marching bangs emulate the very heart and soul of HBCU culture. A sports game or celebratory school event is never complete without it. The essence of this has inspired the new CW eight part docu-series, March. The limited series takes viewers into the exciting and dedicated world of HBCU band culture and those who contribute to it. Through the eyes of students and band experts, March follows the journey, commitment and pressure leading up to a performance on the field. Furthermore, the show shares the personal and unique stories of individual members and staff of the over 300-person marching band while emphasizing the legacy and culture of Prairie View A&M (PVAMU).
Dr. Timothy Zachery is the band director who leads the PVAMU marching band, the Marching Storm. Born in Alexandria, Louisiana, Dr. Zachery has significantly helped to define the Marching Storm's place within PVAMU history during his tenure as the institution's band director. His deep love of music and devotion to the band has influenced the lives that he has had an opportunity to mold.
Dr. Zachery shared with EBONY his insight on the importance of HBCU band culture and his experience participating in the creation of the docu-series.
EBONY: HBCU culture has become quite trendy for mainstream America over the past few years as people become more privy to the aspect of HBCUs or watch Beyoncé’s “Homecoming”. What do you want people to know and understand about the real HBCU culture?
Dr. Timothy Zachery: For me, I want people to think about HBCU culture a bit more expansively. I would like for people to receive a true indoctrination of the fact that we are not one monolithic culture. There's so many different aspects to what we do, even at this institution, as a singularity, let alone the other HBCUs. We have a long, rich and steep history with this institution. I just want folks to understand that there's a lot that goes into not just into the band, but everything that these students do. We're simply using the band as the medium or the main focal point. These young peoples' lives are being examined in a way that no one has ever examined it before. To see straight A students at an HBCU and witness their successes is powerful.
What has your own personal connection to HBCUs and the marching band experience been?
Because I've experienced both Norfolk State University and Southern University, I can say that I have plenty of HBCU hours under my belt. I've taught at Norfolk State for 14 years and have currently been at PVAMU for ten.
I've always been submersed in HBCU band culture, even when I didn't know it. My biggest influences are my middle school band director who went to Mississippi Valley State University and my high school band director who went to Southern University. Before I knew what an HBCU was, I was being exposed to this culture that was the next step in my own evolution. I think that by attending Southern University in undergrad, it helped me to define myself in a way that I don't think I could have done anywhere else. I was able to find myself and figure out my place in the world along with my strengths, my weaknesses and my power. To then go on to Norfolk, I was able to learn how to use those skills. That was an invaluable experience for me that I've been able to return to the students I work with.
What I do has been very personal for me. I enjoy what I do because of the people that I work for—my students—and the challenge that they bring to my life on a daily basis. You know, when I get in the car and I drive to the school, I never think about it as "work." It's one of my favorite things. One of my favorite scenes from the movie Cadillac Records is when one of the characters is so infatuated with his work that he dies on his work. While I hope that is not in my near future, it is that type of adoration for what we are able to bring to these students lives that I have. And also, what they bring to our lives. It's a two-way street.
Walk me through a routine practice for the Prairie View A&M University's Marching Storm band. What’s your process for success?
Because March is a docu-series, no one would want to see us just rehearse. So, it's cool to share the portions about our lives and how they intersect with band. But our typical rehearsal starts at 5:30 pm with the students doing individual practice. Then, that leads to sectional practice with their consort and later to a large ensemble rehearsal. This larger rehearsal not only includes the wind portion of the band rehearsing or the percussion section in another area but incorporates the dancers of the color guard as well. This will go until about 8:00 PM. After that, the entire band will head out to the practice field and will either work on drill material or some other material that we have planned. That'll lead us to about 9:30 PM. We then say the nightly prayer and we go home.
We spend approximately four to four and a half hours a day so we spend a lot of time together a lot working through our craft.
From your perspective, what makes HBCUs so unique and special?
You can't separate the institutions from where they are. There is blood, sweat and tears on every one of these campuses deep within the soil. For instance, Prairie View A&M University was founded in 1876 on the Altavista Plantation. Just just saying that out loud, you understand the gravity of what we're talking about in regard to all of these institutions having a particular draw and perspective about the communities that they're in. So even though the institutions have this wonderful allure, it's literally where they are that makes them who they are. Southern would not be Southern if it wasn't in Baton Rouge. Jackson State wouldn't be Jackson State if it wasn't where it is. Norfolk wouldn't be Norfolk. So, it's the surrounding communities that help to define the identity of the institutions. It's so powerful and very important to our culture as a whole.
Why is March so important and crucial for the world to see in 2022?
The world needs to see this positivity, especially where we are. Coming out of this two-year hiatus, we were sitting on the couch, watching YouTube videos from 10 years ago and re-analyzing them because we couldn't do it for real. It has really left a thirst for this particular type of entertainment for the public as well as the participants. I think March is showing the world that even though this show is about arts and being artistic, there's so much more involved in an institution. The vast majority of the students in our band are STEM majors so this is an outlet for them. This is the way they blow off steam and and find some balance in their lives as well as keeping structure and moving forward.
For the younger generation, it allows us to propel this particular art for and the traditional show style band into the future. If we look across the country, this particular style is dying due to the pandemic and other cultural reasons. It's been like a train that ran out of track. It's not stopping, it just doesn't have any more track. When this season started after COVID, it was like a train that was sitting on top of a rocket that hadn't moved in 100 years. But the expectation from our community to get back out there and be better than we were before propelled us. If you sat on the couch and had to run a marathon after in three years, I wouldn't suggest going to go run one immediately. But that was the expectation for us and all other HBCU bands coming out of that hiatus. I was thinking that it was unrealistic, but amazingly enough, most of us were able to deliver in that form like we'd never stopped.
So hopefully this series will help to resurrect some of those high schools that were once powerhouse, traditional show style bands, bring them back to what they were before and give them an opportunity to express that to the greater community.