Carmel H.S. Marching Greyhounds

With a consistently top-ranked program, Carmel high school’s marching band has a large membership that faces both internal and external pressures. Richard Saucedo, the group’s director, discusses how the group achieves “Excellence as a lifestyle.”

Photo courtesy of Carmel High School band

Being a band director is hard work, but Carmel High School’s Richard Saucedo also manages to be one of the country’s top composers, arrangers and clinicians—all while leading his band to become the 2005 Bands of America Grand Nationals Champion and place in the top 10 every year since. Saucedo used one of his breaks during Carmel’s band camp schedule to speak with Halftime Magazine about his career, Carmel’s success and overcoming a recent hazing incident in the community (not connected to the band).

Halftime: Tell me about your musical background.

Saucedo: I fell in love with the whole marching band thing when I was in high school because I had a director, Don Hoffman, who also got me into writing. I went to Indiana University in Bloomington and got a music education degree and started to try and work with the best people I could find.

I got some wonderful experience and ended up not only writing and teaching for marching bands but also got a chance to work and write for The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps and also writing for Hal Leonard Publications. From those kinds of activities, I’ve learned a ton from some of the best people in the business, and I’ve been fortunate enough that people have asked me to do clinics.

Halftime: What has been your proudest moment?

Saucedo: My proudest moment professionally was in the year 2005 when the Carmel Marching Band won the Bands of America Grand Nationals Championship in November, and then the very next month, our Wind Symphony played at the Midwest Clinic in Chicago. We felt we had reached the pinnacle of success in marching and concert band, just four weeks from each other. Halftime: What are the keys to your success?

Saucedo: We have amazingly hard-working kids. My best example is this summer, we haven’t had a day under 88 degrees, and our kids have ignored that and done what they always do, working hard and giving everything they have. We have kids that are willing to give way more than is necessary. The other thing is that we have a tremendous staff: Our assistant directors, percussion instructors, color guard instructors are the best in the country. They’re not just great teachers, they’re great motivators, and they care about the kids. The other part is the parents who will do anything for us, and the last part is the administration. Our superintendent came to one of our practices; the principal follows us all year long and actually comes to a competition. Kids, staff, parents and administration are the reason we’ve been so successful.

Halftime: How does your band deal with the pressure of being a top program?

Saucedo: We just try to focus on excellence. It’s not about who we beat; it’s about being as perfect as we can. We know there’s no such thing as a perfect practice or performance, but we try to get as close as we can. By approaching it that way, we take the pressure off the kids and the staff for placing where people think we’ll place. … In our band room, one of our drum majors put up on the wall, “Excellence as a Lifestyle,” and we believe that, whether it’s in rehearsal or outside rehearsal.

Halftime: The marching arts are very strong in Indiana. How does the location help or hinder your program?

Saucedo: It never hurts; it always helps. The Avon directors, Center Grove, Lawrence Central, realize that without competing against Carmel, they wouldn’t be as good, and we feel the same way. … There are times those groups beat us, but it doesn’t matter, because if they’re successful, then we’re successful. Whatever Indiana band is the most successful, we’ll all congratulate each other.

Halftime: With approximately 500 students in your programs, how do you maintain personal connections?

Saucedo: We have 150 incoming band students this year, so we decided it’s time to divide them into two groups, and we’re going to use all our directors, so that every kid feels like they’re getting personal attention, so that we can see they’ve improved over the years … When I talk to people about it, they sometimes make fun of me, like, “Oh no, you have too many kids!” It’s a great problem to have, but it’s a problem that we want to take care of. We don’t want anyone leaving feeling that they were just a number.

Halftime: What do you want students to take away from marching band?

Saucedo: There are a couple of things: The first one is that the world is about how you deal with people. This summer we’ve spent over 20 hours doing leadership training with all of our kids, not just upperclassmen, but everyone including freshmen: how to react when there’s a problem, how to be a good leader, how to stand back sometimes. We want them to deal with life lessons. We really want them to be thinking about excellence in everything they do; if they’re going to be a doctor or a teacher, they should be the best that there is.

Halftime: So how has the band dealt with the recent hazing incident in Carmel’s athletic program to make sure these activities stay out of your band?

Saucedo: We’re taking our lead from the school. That’s part of why we had more leadership training this year. We try very hard to never let our kids out of the sight of an adult. We sat our kids down as a whole band; we talked about respecting each other’s spaces and personal belongings, and that’s something that at CHS, we’re making sure the kids really understand.

Halftime: What advice do you have for other programs?

Saucedo: Don’t do it alone. Go out and find people that can do things better than you can and ask them to come in and work with your kids. Or go watch them and see how they work with kids. There are so many people that are out there willing to help young directors. One of the things we’ve done with Dynamic Marching [a company co-founded by Carmel’s visual designer, Jeff Young] is to help create DVDs for young directors with information I wish I had had when I was a young director. That’s one of the ways we’ve tried to give back.