Olympia High School gets its 4th band director in 4 years

Olympia and Capital high school bands joined with the University of Washington marching band to play together at last year's Spaghetti Bowl.
Olympia and Capital high school bands joined with the University of Washington marching band to play together at last year's Spaghetti Bowl. Courtesy photo

It’s the beginning of marching band season, and Olympia High School has a new band director just in time.

Erik Curley, who formerly taught at North Beach High School in Ocean Shores, was hired by the Olympia School District in mid-July. He’ll be the fourth person to lead the band program in four years.

The marching band will start practicing in late August so it can perform at games in September, including the annual Spaghetti Bowl with crosstown rivals Capital High School.

One of Curley’s mandates is to expand the marching band and increase its public appearances. In recent years, the band has not performed in local parades or community festivals, but Curley said that could change.

“Marching band is a core part of any music program, and can be a giant source of pride for the community,” Curley said. “I’m hoping we can further the opportunities we can offer the students.”

In addition to running the classes at the high school — wind ensemble, jazz band, symphonic band, concert band — the OHS band director is also responsible for teaching band at several district elementary schools, directing the marching band and pep band, going with students to festivals and competitions, running the pit orchestra for school plays, and hosting concerts throughout the year.

Curley replaces Joe Boertmann, who taught at OHS for two years before accepting a full-time position at Snohomish High School.

Boertmann notified parents and students of his resignation in an email, in which he wrote, “I want you to know that it was not an easy decision, but I feel that the opportunity to focus only on a high school band program is more in line with my long-term career goals. I have thoroughly enjoyed working at Olympia High School and deeply appreciate the professional and personal connections I have made during my time here.”

Olympia High principal Matt Grant said Boertmann struggled with the multiple placements. Now the school’s goal is to eventually have someone in the high school all day.

“It was challenging for him to have the volume to do an elementary school and high school capacity,” Grant said. “Three or four years down the road, we want a full-time music person.”

Curley will be third to hold the position since longtime band director Scott Pierson’s death in 2013. Ben McDonald, known as “Mr. Mack,” filled in as the temporary director for the rest of that school year. Then Boertmann, who had previously student taught under Pierson, began the following summer.

David van der Lugt, an incoming OHS senior, was a freshman when Pierson died. He’s been playing the trombone since the sixth grade.

“Going through (Pierson’s passing) was really rough. He was really nice to everyone, welcoming to all the freshmen. … When he passed away, it was pretty hard,” Lugt said.

“It was nice that (Boertmann) knew Mr. Pierson, and he knew the standards of the band,” Lugt said. “It was really tough, going through Pierson, Mack and Boertmann. Now we’ll have had four directors in four years.”

Lugt described how transitioning between band directors is different than switching teachers.

“The hardest part is that band directors and students have a special bond — it’s not like math or English teachers. You spend a lot of time with these people outside of class, going to marching band and to festivals. It’s pretty special.”

Grant said four candidates for the job were interviewed by panel, and each taught a mini lesson with current students.

“Band teacher is a challenging job,” Grant said. “Music is a big part of our school community. So we were looking for someone who’s not only a great teacher but also has great vision for where the program is going to go.”

Lugt said he was excited to be involved and give his input on the candidates.

“The band program at Oly is one of the reasons I love going there,” Lugt said. “Band is what keeps me really motivated with my schoolwork, and it’s really important to me to have a good band program.”

Like Lugt, Curley has been playing the trombone from a young age.

He grew up in Yakima and was the drum major at West Valley High School. He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of North Texas and Central Washington University, where he later earned his teaching certificate.

He moved to Ocean Shores to teach at North Beach High School, which is in the same musical division as Olympia High, so he is familiar with the OHS band program.

“Olympia is a tremendous program. It has a great reputation for greatness. It has a lot of potential and outstanding tradition,” Curley said. “It has a lot of great things ahead of it as well. I believe with my teaching style and tools we can take it to the next level.”

Marching band practice begins next week at the high school, with band camp from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

A parent meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. Mondayin the high school band room. Parents also can find information by contacting the Olympia Band Boosters Association.

Curley said band camp is open to all returning or incoming OHS musicians, and all they need to do is show up. Interested students who have never been in band before should contact him beforehand by calling the school.

“I’m really excited for the opportunity to work at Olympia and I can’t wait to get started,” Curley said. “I know that it’s a great place, and I can’t wait to meld it and work with all the outstanding musicians.”