Now, the country knows what Fayette County already knew. Dr. Myra Rhoden, who has shared her heart of music with Fayette County High School since 2003 in an education career that has spanned more than 20 years, was named the 2018 National Band Director of the Year, a fitting honor for a teacher loved and revered by so many.
The award bestowed upon Rhoden, the Director of Bands and Fine Arts Department Chairperson at FCHS, is given to a band director who embodies the U.S. Army’s core values by inspiring both students and fellow music educators.
“Dr. Myra Rhoden makes an impression on those that she meets by demonstrating the qualities of a true leader and mentor. Her dedicated and passionate group of students at Fayette County High School have performed in both national and international venues, and have been finalists at Bands of America Regional and Super Regional Championships,” said National Association for Music Education (NAfME) President Denese Odegaard. “Dr. Rhoden is continually learning from others while sharing her own insights and knowledge.”
The honor was even more special because her son, Errol Rhoden, III, played the sousaphone with the U.S. Army All-American Marching Band at halftime of the All-American Bowl in San Antonio during the festivities. While Myra was surprised to learn she was the winner, her family wasn’t.
“It was a true surprise. Sitting at the awards night, I looked at my husband and looked at the program and noticed they were doing the national coach of the year and the national player of the year and I said ‘Oh that’s nice, they’re going to acknowledge a band director tonight. How cool is that?’” she remembered. “And he went mhmm. He didn’t really respond. I found out later he knew they were going to give me the award. He found out earlier that day, and my son knew too.”
Her son, Errol, plans to pursue a career in music too, but it was nothing forced upon him. He’s always felt the love around him.
“He wasn’t forced to do it, it was his choice,” said Myra. “We didn’t make him do band, but he was always taken care of by the band kids at football games and things like that, so it was just a natural choice for him.”
After serving as a drum major for the marching band this fall, he plans be to a music performance major and is going through the process of interviewing and auditioning for differing programs.
“I had no idea it would be what he wanted to do as a career path, but that’s all him,” she said. “It’s nice seeing his journey from this side.”
Errol is just one in a line of so many Tigers she’s shepherded. He’s one of eight band All-Americans from the school. Asked how many alums she might have helped find a passion in music they would pursue after high school, she was afraid to hazard a guess, but even recent evidence is staggering.
“Last year, I think we had Fayette County High School grads in 16 different college programs,” she said, noting that three alums are currently drum majors at their universities. “A lot of kids keep playing. All of them don’t major in music, but the fact that they go to school and still participate in some way, I think that’s pretty cool.”
Her influence stretches beyond the halls of FCHS as the founder of both the Athena Music and Leadership Camp, a summer orchestra and band camp for middle school and high school girls that promotes musical excellence, self-esteem, and leadership, and the New Notes Band Camps, summer camp programs for middle school musicians throughout metro Atlanta.
It’s all part of paying forward the priceless appreciation for music she was given from her family. Growing up in Tuskegee, Alabama, Myra was surrounded by the sound.
“My grandfather played the organ for the church. My uncle played piano for the church. Everybody was in the band growing up,” she remembered. “I was made to take piano lessons, and I was told I was going to be in the band.”
Whenever there was a chance to soak up some learning opportunity, her family made sure she took it.
“If there were concerts on TV, we watched them,” she said, citing Alvin Ailey Dance Troupe performances among the favorites for the family. “Anything that was cultural, if we couldn’t go to it, I sat and watched it on television.”
Her school system didn’t offer a true elementary or middle school band, so she didn’t join the band officially until the 8th grade. Playing the clarinet, she quickly made a name for herself, earning all-state multiple times.
The experiences she found in high school playing in honor bands helped stoked her fire to become a teacher.
“My high school director liked for us to travel, so we saw different things through being in the band, so I figured why not do the same for others.”
She went to the University of Alabama, where she was a member of the band throughout, before getting her Doctorate at the University of Southern Mississippi.
She was never a drum major herself, but even that is a priceless lesson she passes on to her students.
“I use that example with the kids all the time when they try out and don’t make drum major. I tell them I get to conduct every day so not making drum major isn’t the end of the world.”
After teaching for nine years in Alabama, fate would lead her to judge a large group performance evaluation in Georgia. On a panel of four judges, two taught in Fayette County. She talked about moving to Georgia, and they suggested she apply at FCHS.
The true appreciation for the fine arts in the county is what reeled her in over other options.
“The emphasis on the fine arts, I think, is the thing that led me to Fayette County versus some of the other jobs that I was offered when I came to Georgia,” she said.
The coaches and teachers at FCHS appreciate well-rounded students and work together to help them thrive. Take, for example, someone like Ruby Truscott. Truscott, a junior at the school, is an all-state oboist who is moving on to the final round of the Governor’s Honors Program playing the oboe, while also being a key contributor on the state-title contending basketball team.
“We work really well together with the coaches,” said Rhoden. “We have several kids who do the same thing. Last year we took a poll, and every single sport is represented in the band, and a lot of those kids are leaders on their sports teams.
“I don’t know if there’s any organization in the school that doesn’t have a band member a part of it.”
As well-respected as the band program is, its future burns even brighter with a new auditorium set to be completed late this year. With a full year of concerts, the band currently has to scrounge up anywhere it can find to perform. Once a year, they play at Sandy Creek High School with the Patriots so they get a chance to play on-stage before competition season heats up. The bulk of their concerts are simply staged in the cafeteria, so excitement is high for the fine arts program to have a home to call their own.
While she continues to shape the future of the band program at FCHS, lessons she taught stick with those she has touched, and who better to sum up the lasting impact Rhoden has had on so many than her students.
“Dr. Rhoden has impacted my life in so many positive ways. She consistently allows her students to challenge themselves while giving them the opportunity to thrive on their own. Her teaching enables us to learn so we can be successful in the future in music and in life,” said Rachel Parker. “Personally, she is one of the most influential people I’ve had the pleasure to know. She is an all-round wonderful being, and I am so grateful to have been taught by her.”
James Jones agrees.
“Dr. Rhoden has been nothing less than an inspiration to me and has showed me just how far hard work and dedication can take you,” he said.
Trinity Rives said, “Her ambitions and ability to get things done in an efficient, well executed manner have helped me.”
She’s left a beautiful example to follow.
“She has helped me a lot. She has taught me that I can do anything I put my mind to. She has shown me what it means to be a powerful leader and woman,” said Bailey Holcombe. “I will always use those lessons and skills, and I aspire to be like her when I grow up.”