Eric Staats recently hired as Ripley High School’s band director has some history with the program.
Various schools in West Virginia and other states have contracted with Staats to write their field band movements. In 2019, Ripley was one of those.
“I was privileged to write the movements for ‘Into the Light,’” he said. “So I’ve worked with Jeanette Bowlby and gotten some insight.”
Staats, who has been the band director at Parkersburg South High School for the past nine years, also understands the pressure of coming into an award-winning program. The Viking band has placed first at numerous competitions and has often appeared at Walt Disney World in Florida.
“Oh, I know Ripley well through competitions,” he said with a smile. “It’s clear to me that these kids are ready to try anything if it will make the band better. Their pride clearly shows.”
Under Staats’ direction, Parkersburg South’s bands have also won numerous awards. They have performed at Walt Disney World and played jazz at the Lincoln Center in New York City.
Jazz is one of the band director’s favorite musical genres. Specializing in brass instruments, particularly the trombone, Staats was able to develop a high school jazz ensemble that has become well known in the area.
“Mrs. Bowlby told me that about three years ago she started a jazz group that was beginning to thrive,” Staats said. “Since jazz is my passion, I hope I can help it to keep growing. That’s something I was proud of doing at PSHS.”
Coming into a band program always presents challenges. To Staats, a Marshall University graduate, the key is to “not reinvent.” His goal is to look at what is already in place, get to know the students, and see what they already have mastered.
“This is such a solid program,” he said. “My reputation is for efficiency and quickness and that’s what I’ll bring. I’ve also studied a lot of ways to teach marching skills which isn’t the easiest thing to learn.”
One of the greatest challenges facing all band programs this year is the inability to have band camps. Normally, this is a time for team-building and simultaneous marching and playing. Adjusting to current state guidelines, Staats is taking band camp week and having two-hour rehearsals for each section.
The first hour is working on show music followed by an hour of marching fundamentals.
“It’s really tough getting on the same exact step,” Staats said. “But that responsibility is on them and when they get it, boom! It’s precise.”
Staats’ own next “step” is to write the drill design for the music that was chosen by his predecessor.
“The kids were already practicing it and I didn’t see any reason to change,” he said. “We’re doing the music of Queen and that will be a lot of fun.”
Staats says the band is made up of individual students whom he finds it easy to grow close to and care about. That made leaving the 70-member Parkersburg South band especially hard for the 42-year old director.
“I wasn’t looking forward to leaving what I had built at PSHS,” Staats said. “Meeting with my students and telling them I was leaving was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I almost didn’t get through it. But they understood that the driving force behind this move was my family.”
Staats is married to Hope Staats, band director at neighboring Roane County High School. The couple adopted three young siblings who were not getting to see their father much because of his extensive band and music schedule.
“The epiphany came to me once COVID-19 hit and I was staying home,” Staats said. “My kids looked puzzled to see me. Right then I realized this was not the life I wanted for me or for them. When I saw this job opening, I decided to apply with hopes of being closer to home.”
While hating to leave Parkersburg South, Staats says he doesn’t regret the decision.
“I’m so impressed with the students at Ripley and their eagerness to learn,” he said. “The support and welcome I’ve received have amazed me. There are so many positives to this, including being able to have dinner with my family every night.”