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Community band performs at high school’s football games

September 30, 2018

INDEPENDENCE, La. (AP) — One trumpeter drove in from Houston to rehearse before a game. A drummer drives from Baton Rouge twice a week. The director leads the entire band for no pay.

These are a few examples of the level of dedication to be found among members of the newly formed Thundercat Community Marching Band in Independence. The community band, open to all interested musicians, meets at Independence High School band hall from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and performs at Independence High football games.

When Independence High School dissolved its band program at the end of this past school year, Thundercats director Herman Lathers immediately offered his services in ensuring some type of ensemble was available. The Thundercats were holding regular rehearsals by August.

“I couldn’t see, being a diehard student from Independence, seeing this band not happen,” Lathers said. “Once I put the word out, kids started coming from all over.”

When all members are together, there are between 45 and 50; there is a solid devoted core of about 35 members.

Many hail from the northern end of Tangipahoa Parish, but some also come from Lutcher, where Lathers directed band in 2009. Drum Captain Darnell Flowers, a music education major at Southern University, commutes from Baton Rouge where he stays for school.

A 2015 Independence High School alumnus, Flowers has to deplete his school workload ahead of time to fit Thundercats rehearsals into the busy music major schedule. However, it’s his passion for music that makes it worth it.

“I hate to see the programs going down,” Flowers said. “If we can help the program grow, I’m all for it.”

The most long-distance member, Jason Kirkpatrick of Houston, goes a long way back with Lathers, all the way to the roots of the Thundercats name. When Kirkpatrick and Lathers were members of the IHS band in 1992, they helped form the Thundercats, a smaller ensemble within the marching band. The director at the time allowed the combo to play during the third quarter Lathers’ own arrangements of more current pop music.

Lathers’ brother, Kardel Lathers, is also an alumnus of the original Thundercats and part of the new community band version of the Thundercats.

When Herman Lathers became Independence High’s band director in 1997, the name came to represent the entirety of the high school band. Lathers directed there until 2007, and he still has personal investment in the survival of band programs in Independence schools.

His daughter is currently a student at Independence Middle Magnet School, where she is in the student band. Lathers also volunteers his time to direct that band, often having to leave his job at Bill Hood Premium Pre-owned in Hammond in the afternoon to hold rehearsal at the middle school, then returning to Hammond to finish his workday. His bosses at the car dealership accommodate his schedule.

“You gotta love it,” he said. “It’s my passion. Music’s been my passion since I was 10 years old.”

His hope is that by fostering a band program at the middle school, those students will create enough renewed interest at the high school when they move up to have the high school band reinstated.

Should that occur, the high school games would no longer need a community band, but Lathers already has enough plans in the works for the community Thundercats to become its own entity.

He sees the football season as a way to establish fundamentals and music reading to get the group ready for more. Lathers plans to have the band perform in parades and Tangipahoa Parish’s spring festivals, and he wants to eventually take them to community band state competitions.

He directed the band with one hand while playing trumpet with the other at a rehearsal, joining in the songs. They brushed up 10 pieces and began playing through five new ones.

A water cooler stuffed with folders of all of Lathers’ band arrangements sat at the front of the band hall, ready for Lathers to pull from it. The Thundercats repertoire consists of a balance of marching band standards like the ESPN music tag, throwback hits like Lenny Kravitz’s “It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over,” and current pop arrangements like the subject of the KeKe viral video challenge, “In My Feelings” by Drake.

“Some of these kids haven’t been able to experience a band like this with all the instruments,” Lathers said.

He is helped in arranging the newer tunes by Aubrey Warren Jr. of Amite, who plays trumpet and baritone in the Thundercats. Warren also composes his own music for jazz, marching and concert bands.

“Music is basically a way of life for me,” said Warren, whose day job is at Home Depot. “It’s what I have a passion for.” Involved with various marching bands for the past nine years, Warren got involved through Flowers.

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Information from: The Daily Star, http://www.hammondstar.com

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