NEW CASTLE —
This fall, the Wilmington High’s band performances no longer will be Taylor made.
Director Gary Taylor has announced his retirement after 32 years of holding the baton for the school district. Taylor capped his career with the band marching in the Kentucky Derby parade earlier this month, and was honored at a retirement gala at the home of attorney Dallas Hartman.
Taylor called the trip one of the highlights of his career, saying the parade was the best one he has ever been in.
“Our band was next, and we’re right on the starting gate,” he said, “and I just stood there in front of the band and looked back, and the expression on everybody’s face when they looked and saw the thousands of people ready to go. I had chills.”
Wilmington senior John Allegro said the trip was a big moment for him and his classmates as well.
“This whole entire year has been sentimental overall,” he said. “So it was really fun to be there and have him excited all the time about every single little thing that we did, because it was always kind of a last hurrah.”
The Kentucky trip was just the cherry on top of a long, influential career at Wilmington. Several students, alumni, parents and community members turned out to show their gratitude for Taylor’s years of service.
Taylor’s personal career highlights include being selected as band master for Phi Beta Mu in 2004. as well as being asked to conduct a district band earlier this year. Still, he emphasizes that the kids and their hard work are his favorite memory.
“I think the long line of success we had at adjudications and the good concerts, I think those are personal things that I’ll remember and be proud of.”
As an involved member of the Wilmington staff, Taylor has left a lasting impression on former students. Wilmington graduate Tony Gregory cites Taylor as a big factor in his own development, both musical and otherwise.
“He was tough, and that made me a better musician and a better person,” Gregory said. “It gave me character, and taught me humility and other things that I needed for growing up.”
Nancy Hartman, a former drum major at Wilmington, credits Taylor for her interest in music.
“Seeing how I am a music major because of him, and I’m at Penn State because of him, and I’m in Blue Band because of him, I’d say he’s definitely (had a big impact on my life),” Hartman said. “I owe everything I am to him.”
The feeling of appreciation is mutual. Taylor says he will most miss the students after leaving the school. Though he is humble about his influence on students, he says that each member who passed through the band had a major impression on him.
“They’ve had a lasting impact,” he said. “When I see kids down the street, in church — it’s always very fond memories.”
THE BAND’S FUTURE
Taylor leaves behind some big shoes to fill.
“He made band cool in high school,” Hartman said. “The student body was really close. Honestly, there weren’t very many cliques because he helped make band good, which helped us band nerds be cool.
“He definitely brought a lot, he’s definitely Wilmington through and through.”
Wilmington alum Alex Taylor considers the band director the image of the school, and finds it hard to imagine the band without him.
“I think a lot of schools and people look up to him in a different light. Mr. Taylor just sort of represents Wilmington in a lot of people’s eyes,” she said. “It will be really weird to not have him there.
“I think his legacy will always be there, but I think it will definitely be really different without him.”
Gary Taylor agrees that for his students, it will be an adjustment, but he is confident in the band’s ability to adapt and believes his successor will be up to the task.
“I think it’s going to take time for anybody to come in, for the kids to get to know the director, for the director to get to know the kids, but I know that they’re good kids,” he said. “I know that there are good directors out there, and I think it will be a match eventually.
“Maybe not the first week, but the kids will start to get to know the director and it will happen. Good things will happen.”
He still plans to see the band after his retirement, but will remain at a respectful distance. He wants to allow the new band director to establish himself with the kids without intrusion.
As for his free time, Taylor, an avid turkey hunter, plans on spending more time in the woods.
Until then, there is still a lot to get done, and for the band, it’s still business as usual. The high school band is preparing for the Memorial Day parade, promoting eighth graders to the marching band and phasing out graduating seniors.
The seventh- and eighth-grade band has an elementary school tour as well as its own Memorial Day concert, and the fifth-graders will play for the fourth grade students when they tour the middle school building.