Sound of silence from NCCU troubles band fans

Jun. 25, 2014 @ 09:11 PM

The N.C. Central University Marching Sound Machine might make great music together, but students in the band feel unheard.

“Nobody hears our voices,” said Dominique McLendon, a senior who has been in the band for the past four years. “At the end of the day, what voice do we have?”

She was among about 40 people who attended Wednesday night’s open forum at the Hayti Heritage Center, just up Fayetteville Street from the university campus.

They gathered in the wake of last month’s sudden dismissal of band director Jorim Reid and two staffers, to share concerns about the future of the Marching Sound Machine. It was organized by the booster club that supports the band.

Leonardo Williams, an NCCU alum who served four years as band director at Southern High School in Durham, said the university administration’s unexplained decision not to renew Reid’s contract could hurt recruitment efforts for the band.

“When you make an abrupt decision like this, it rings an alarm,” Williams said.

Marilyn Clements, president of the booster club, wants to know what vision administrators have for the band going forward.

She doesn’t have any problems with the interim band director, Thurman Hollins, who starts July 1.

“We don’t have a gripe with him,” she said. “We will support him. We just want answers.”

James Sadler, a sophomore who plays tuba in the band, started an online petition calling for Reid’s reinstatement. He and a few other students tried to present that petition to Chancellor Debra Saunders-White and the Board of Trustees on Wednesday morning – even waiting through a lengthy closed session – only to be told they wouldn’t be heard “because we didn’t properly get on the agenda,” Sadler said.

“I love my school,” he said. “I want my school to support me the way I support it.”

Lauren Cohen, who played in the band from 2005-2011, worries about the legacy of the Marching Sound Machine.

“This is the weakest I’ve ever seen the band program,” she said. “People dedicated their time to build this program. It’s like it’ll all be thrown away and thrown in our face like whatever we did was nothing.”

Booster club chairman Dennis Ellis stood before the students as the forum ended and assured them: “We love every one of you. We support every one of you. We believe in every one of you.”

He then joined the crowd in a circle to sing the hymn of the Marching Sound Machine, which was written by Reid.

No one from the administration attended the forum, but the university did issue a statement responding to concerns:

“Administrators, staff and faculty at NCCU are committed to strengthening all musical ensembles and providing ongoing support for the programs and standards that have produced extraordinary results. We also see great potential for an even higher level of excellence in the years to come.”

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