On Friday afternoon, as Alando Mitchell stared at a table full of new instruments destined to shape the future of the marching band at Goldsboro High School, he couldn’t help but reflect on the past.
Mitchell, Goldsboro’s band director, seemed to never stop smiling during a presentation in the school’s auditorium, as National Pawn donated a collection of instruments and $2,000 to Goldsboro’s band program.
National Pawn is a community-focused pawn shop with 22 stores across North Carolina. Over the past 13 years, National Pawn has donated over 4,000 instruments and roughly $60,000 to schools. Dr. Sandra Coley, a member of Goldsboro High School’s marching band class of 1978, was instrumental in connecting National Pawn with the band program at Goldsboro.
“Dr. Coley, she saw something that I posted (online) about band camp,” Mitchell said. “She just reached out to me on Facebook, and started telling me she was part of the class of 1978 in the band, and she started following our page. She wanted to give back and she asked me what did I need. I just told her our instruments are in catastrophic condition. When she called me back, that’s when she let me know National Pawn is going to give you some instruments. What you saw today was a sheer miracle.”
Now in his third year as Goldsboro’s band director, Mitchell witnessed the program all but evaporate during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Teaching band does not lend itself well to online learning, and Mitchell saw the band’s numbers dwindle to fewer than 10 students.
“When I started here and we were in the middle of the pandemic, I had to figure out how to do band online,” Mitchell said. “I was asking questions to all my experienced band directors, even my college band director friends. Nobody knew what to do. I can’t put into words how hard it was just to keep the kids that we had interested, and we ended up losing a lot. The next year we when they let us come back, the band camp that we had in 2021, I had five students. The rest of the students got involved in other things, sports, jobs, some started going to school online, and they never came back.”
Mitchell diligently began recruiting students at Goldsboro to join the band. Concerned more with a student’s availability than their musical ability, Mitchell gradually built the band back up. There are now more than 30 students in the band, and a program with a long, and proud tradition, has begun to regain its notoriety.
Last November, Goldsboro was invited to be the spotlight band in the Raleigh Christmas parade that was cut short by a tragic accident involving a truck pulling one of the parade’s floats.
“When we came out of COVID band programs everywhere were struggling,” said Christy White, the Title IV Enrichment Facilitator for Wayne County Public Schools. “Mr. Mitchell has worked so hard to build this program and to have these students here. Students this moment is for you all, but don’t forget to say thanks to Mr. Mitchell as well.”
Perhaps the most telling detail of the rebirth Goldsboro’s band program has experienced, is not in the rebuilding of the band’s size, but in Mitchell’s ability to mold inexperienced musicians. The band is made up almost entirely of musicians that had no prior musical experience.
As the band wowed the audience in attendance on Friday afternoon, it seemed almost unfathomable that a band seemingly playing in unison as one, was comprised of previously inexperienced musicians.
“We’ve connected the band back with the community,” Mitchell said. “We’ve connected the band back with the alumni, we’ve connected the band back with the school, the parents and the media. Ninety-seven percent of the kids in this band had never touched an instrument a day in their life. The kids we have in band right now are merely from me walking around school right now saying, ‘hey try band.’ When I was doing lunch duty or when I was at ballgames, I would pull kids to the side and ask them to consider band. Now, I can hardly keep them out of the classroom.”
To further cement its rise from the dark days of COVID-19 to a future that appears to be full of promise, Goldsboro is hosting the inaugural Wayne County band competition on Nov. 18. Wayne County Public Schools also recently assisted Goldsboro in acquiring new band uniforms.