The Castle High School band program has experienced extreme highs and lows in just a few short months, receiving the Sudler Shield award and facing the death of a student. Throughout it all, the directors and students have relied on the unifying and healing power of music.
Over the course of the past several months, the Castle High School band program has faced some extraordinary triumphs as well as some heartbreaking losses. In addition to its first appearance at the Bands of America Grand National finals last year, the band received the 2016 Sudler Shield award by the John Philip Sousa Foundation. In between celebrating these two highlights, the band has been coping with the devastating death of a band member.
With the leadership of head director Mark Eifler and director Tom Dean, the Castle High School music program continues boldly forward, proving time and time again that meaningful and powerful connections can be made through the language of music.
Halftime: Tell us a bit about your professional backgrounds.
Eifler: I have been teaching for about 35 years. I’m also a jazz artist. I play trombone, but I also play shells. Both Tom Dean and I actually graduated from Castle High School. I studied music at Indiana State University.
Dean: I started in sixth grade on the trumpet. I spent four years at Ball State University and received my undergraduate degree. I did my graduate assistantship at Bowling Green State University. I received my graduate degree in music education with a conducting emphasis.
Halftime: What makes the Castle High School marching band unique?
Dean: The band program is valued. Because of that, the students and the community have a real sense of pride. The students in our band program perform and work hard for each other as much as they do for the audience.
Halftime: What has been your proudest moment as directors?
Eifler: The night we were announced as finalists at Bands of America Grand Nationals. That night was so special in terms of the kids and just knowing that they had been working for that.
Dean: There have been two times in my career that we did not qualify for the state finals. The following year, in both times, everyone rallied around each other. Really, those are my proudest moments, seeing the students so engaged and working together so well.
Halftime: Congratulations on Castle’s recent John Philip Sousa Foundation Sudler Shield award. What are your feelings upon receiving this honor?
Eifler: We’re so proud of our kids, proud of our program, proud of our parents, and everything we’ve got going on here. I often tell people I’ve gone to heaven teaching here because there are so many blessings.
Halftime: How will you celebrate?
Dean: They’re going to come and do the actual presentation in May at a celebration concert. We have everybody from our beginners to our oldest, so we’ll have about 650 students performing. It’s just a big community celebration. We thought that would be a great time to have that honor bestowed upon the high school group.
Halftime: Tom, you also won the 2017 Phi Beta Mu Bandmaster of the Year Award in Indiana. What are your thoughts on this?
Dean: It was voted on by our peers, so that was a tremendous surprise and a great honor. Definitely very humbling.
Halftime: Your community has suffered a great loss with the death of student Sophie Rinehart. Can you share what happened there?
Dean: The highest achievement has been making it into the Grand National Finals. The last thing we said was, “We love you guys, and we’re proud of you.” Just a few hours later, I received a call that there had been [a car] accident. Sophie, her father, and her grandmother were all killed. We opened up the band room that night for everybody. We had a couple days with not a lot of playing, just a lot of talking, hugging, singing, and prayers. Sophie was a fantastic musician and an even better person.
Eifler: She was such a great spirit, and she was such an inspiration. She knew everybody, and she was a friend to everybody. Surreal doesn’t even begin to touch it. It just seemed absolutely unreal that this could have happened.
Halftime: Tell us about the Sophie Rinehart scholarship and other efforts to commemorate her.
Dean: [The fund will provide scholarships] for students who embody her selflessness and passion for connecting to people through music. We’ve done the normal things: T-shirts and bracelets. One of the local jewelry stores has taken her handwriting of one of her favorite phrases, “Love is louder,” and put it on some jewelry items. They donated the proceeds to this as well.
Eifler: Music is a feeling, and it’s an art form that is like no other. When you perform, you want to affect people, but to see it actually come true and to see the reaction of people all over the country, how they were inspired by Sophie [who was a soloist] and by the show, it was just so awesome. Sophie would want to share music with everybody. In this way she did get to.
Halftime: What are your goals for the future of the Castle band program?
Dean: Our short-term goals are to increase participation in private lessons, establish private lesson faculty, and increase enrollment. We want to grow to four full bands. We believe strongly that the larger ensembles will get better as the individual students continue to get better.
Halftime: Do you have any advice for fellow directors?
Eifler: Listen to your kids. Make sure you always tell the kids how much you appreciate what they’re doing. There is an end result; you do touch lives.
Dean: Don’t feel intimidated or insecure about asking for opinions, advice, and help. Continue to set goals. Every decision you make needs to be student-centered.
Halftime: Any advice for students?
Eifler: Pursue whatever they want to do. They’re going to be doing things in music that we hadn’t thought of. But they won’t unless they venture out and keep trying. Never give up; just go with full abandon.
Dean: Whether you go into music as a career or a hobby, take advantage of this time. They talk about how students are so stressed out nowadays, but it just reinforces how important 60 minutes a day is to be completely expressive.