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HBCU Bands

Fayetteville State’s Marching Bronco Xpress finds strength in adversity

The season started with a hurricane, but the band is now among the best in the country

It’s been a long season for the Fayetteville State University Marching Bronco Xpress. Evacuations, hurricanes and a lack of resources thwarted the band members before they could even show off what they’d practiced so hard last offseason. But the Marching Bronco Xpress knew that the show, no matter the circumstances, would go on.

And through hard work and tenacity, the band proved just how advantageous a little adversity can be, earning a top Division II ranking in the latest ESPN/The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings released Wednesday.

In September, while other HBCU bands were eager to begin the season, schools in the southeastern region of the United States, including Fayetteville State, were caught in the midst of hurricane watches and warnings. Tropical Storm Florence quickly swelled in size, becoming a powerful hurricane headed straight for the Carolinas, leading school chancellors and presidents to cancel classes and concerned students to evacuate with their families. Extracurricular activities were postponed or canceled, while residents relied on radio and television for updates to tell them the next steps to take. Before the band members could get their footing ahead of a busy football season, it all seemed to unravel before their eyes.

Even with preparation and plans in place, the unpredictability of the storm wasn’t something anyone could really prepare for. But that wasn’t going to stop band director Jorim Reid from doing the university justice and giving fans the performances they deserved.

“We tried to put equipment in high places because we were concerned about the flooding and concerned about mold,” Reid said. “Fortunately, we didn’t get any flooding in our storage facilities. The major challenge was figuring out how the band could practice as a group.”

“The time, requirements of ordering stuff, teachings, facilitating of students’ needs, writing and developing the show — that does not change from a smaller band to a larger band,” said band director Jorim Reid.

“It was tough because we didn’t start until October because of the hurricane,” Reid said. “We didn’t pass out uniforms until October. We had camp and tried to continue, but a lot of students were affected by the hurricane. The university shut down a couple of times and we didn’t have practice. We had two games that were canceled, and it had an impact on our momentum. We had to come up with creative ways to keep the students engaged and keep ourselves going musically.”

To make up for lost time, Reid relied on a band app to help organize group chats and assignments to ensure everyone was kept well-informed on the band’s next moves. Through the app, Reid was also able to review rehearsals and make observations and corrections on the spot.

When the group was reunited weeks later, there were special practices and high school exhibitions that replaced canceled games and events.

“That kind of filled in the gap where we were able to get some performances in and to really get a look at ourselves in a performance situation before we got to our home crowd,” Reid said. “That helped a lot. It was challenging, but the students really stepped up to the challenge.”

When the band finally did return to its home crowd, it was ready for action. The absence and missed practices hadn’t changed the band’s discipline and quality of sound. With the chaotic past behind them, the Marching Bronco Xpress took off and began building and preparing for the few games they had left.

As much as the hurricane complicated the season, Reid is used to challenges and constantly having to readjust and roll with the punches. At Fayetteville State, he does it all. Outside of current students, student leaders and former students volunteering time, the school does not have a full band staff or assistant directors to help with the band.

“It’s just me,” Reid said. “But regardless of the circumstance, you have to show up.”

Reid is grateful for the help of his students to build up the program and mold its greatness, but being the only one responsible can sometimes be an uphill battle, especially with the assumption that a smaller band may require less attention.

“When you become No. 1 publicly, those who make the decisions may think everything is OK. … There is a cost of not having the personnel, the infrastructure that is pretty much standard,” Reid said. “Working with a volunteer or part-time system makes it challenging. Also, the time required to run any band does not change or intensify with the size of the program. The time, requirements of ordering stuff, teachings, facilitating of students’ needs, writing and developing the show — that does not change from a smaller band to a larger band.”

Although Reid could see adjustments being made in the future, the position he’s in as band director is something he doesn’t take for granted. Years ago, Reid had no clue this would be the journey he’d take.

“I wanted to be an assistant band director at the college level to only write music and to conduct,” Reid said. “I wanted to compose and conduct and be an assistant to support a competent band director.”

But life had other plans. As a graduate student, Reid simultaneously worked as a substitute teacher in a K-12 school. He excelled in writing and developing concert and symphonic bands and also learned grant writing, which gave him the advantage of becoming a one-man show.

It didn’t take long for Reid’s talents to be noticed, and by 2001 he had made his way to North Carolina Central University, where he spent 15 years building the band and tripling its size from the initial 32 members. After a sudden departure of the previous FSU band director, Reid found community at Fayetteville State, where he has spent time building and maintaining yet another program. In the two years since Reid’s arrival, the band has grown from 18 members to 100.

“I want a program, not just a marching band. A program where we have a concert band, a jazz band, a symphonic band, a wind ensemble where we could develop the total student,” said Reid.

Reid has also had a champion in university chancellor James Anderson, who has contributed to the band’s success.

“When [chancellor Anderson] found out the band didn’t have instruments after a previous hurricane molded them, he took initiative and supported me and the program,” Reid said. “He saw to it and pushed the button, and we got instruments.”

With only one game left in the season, Reid and the Marching Bronco Xpress are ready to give another high-energy performance before thinking about what’s to come next year. For Reid, it’s never too early to start planning.

The band will be playing Saturday when the Broncos football team plays for the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship against Bowie State in Salem, Virginia.

“I’m always thinking years ahead,” Reid said. “Numbers are important, size does matter, but I preface it with quality. When I was at Florida A&M University, we were huge in the ’90s. Those programs are large, but at the same time, everyone could play. I want the numbers, but I want the quality in the numbers. And I want a program, not just a marching band. A program where we have a concert band, a jazz band, a symphonic band, a wind ensemble, where we could develop the total student.”

Reid also appreciates the outpouring and national recognition the band has received lately, and he hopes curious readers and fans find an appreciation for Fayetteville State University as well.

“I can assume that maybe social media and things like the [ESPN/The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings] and the quality of our performances are giving us some publicity and exposure to where we’re getting invitations to various events,” Reid said. “I’m hoping it will also increase the profile and the visibility of the institution. The university has a lot of history that’s just not known, not put out there. This is the second-oldest liberal arts institution in the state, and nobody knows that. There’s a lot of history here.”

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.