Out on a high note: Blazer Band director hanging up baton after 21 years

Vince Clayton walks with the Ridge View marching band during the 2014 Philadelphia Thanksgiving Parade. (Images provided)

Vince Clayton walks with the Ridge View marching band during the 2014 Philadelphia Thanksgiving Parade. (Images provided)

The grand finale is near for an educator who has been making beautiful music at Ridge View High School since the campus opened its doors in 1994.

Vince Clayton, who has been Ridge View’s band director since the beginning, is retiring at the end of this school year.

After 34 years in teaching, the last 21 at Ridge View, the 59-year-old has decided it’s time to spend more time with his family. “It doesn’t feel like 21 years (at Ridge View),” he said. “It really doesn’t.”

Clearly, Clayton is not retiring quietly. His Ridge View Blazer Band earned third place at the state marching band competition last fall, and in March he was inducted into the South Carolina Band Directors Hall of Fame.

Under his direction, the Blazer Band also participated in the 2014 Philadelphia Thanksgiving Parade.

Vince Clayton places a medal around his daughter Kelsey's neck after the Blazer Band placed third in the state championships. (image provided)

Vince Clayton places a medal around his daughter Kelsey’s neck last year after the Blazer Band placed third in the state championships.

During more than two decades, Clayton has led many students on their musical journeys, including his daughter Kelsey, who graduated from Ridge View last year.

Her father’s influence is evident, as Kelsey was in band all four years of high school, and last fall she participated in the Carolina Band at the University of South Carolina.

Kelsey is but one of many students to have been influenced by her father.

“Mr. Clayton inspired my musical life in such a positive and meaningful way,” said Blair Francis, a 2008 Ridge View graduate. Francis played flute and piccolo in high school, and as a senior she was the Blazer Band drum major.

She later earned a bachelor’s degree in music from USC and a master’s in music from the University of Texas at Austin. Now Francis is pursuing a musical career in New York.

“I studied with the principal flutist of the New York Philharmonic, Robert Langevin, and I am currently performing with the New York Philharmonic for the remainder of their 2015-16 season,” she said.

Ridge View Principal Brenda Mack-Foxworth isn’t surprised by the influence Clayton has had on his students over the years.

“Studies show there is a positive connection between music and brain development,” Mack-Foxworth said. “What our students are showing is that there is a positive connection between Mr. Clayton, their learning, discipline and overall happiness. Students who enter his classroom shy and unsure of themselves leave exuding confidence and with a sparkle to conquer the world.”

Brandon Arvay is another former student who says Clayton’s leadership helped to shape his future.

“The excitement for music, work ethic and musical and technical skills I attained as a student in Mr. Clayton’s program helped me achieve my dream,” Arvay said.

The 2005 Ridge View graduate earned a doctorate in music performance from the University of Kentucky, and now he is following in his former band director’s footsteps. Arvay teaches percussion at Centre College in Danville, Ky., where he also works with the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras and a few high schools.

“I’ve always known there was something special about being in the Ridge View band, but it wasn’t until I got out into the real world teaching middle and high school programs throughout the United States that I could truly appreciate the life lessons and dedication learned as part of the Ridge View family,” Arvay said.

Francis also attributes a large part of her success to what she learned from Clayton.

“He was tough on us and never let anything slide; he was demanding yet encouraging,” Francis said. “He has an ability to push people to their fullest potential.”

Clayton has high, but realistic expectations for his students, many of whom balance band with sports and other extracurricular activities, in addition to homework and sometimes part-time jobs. But he sees the potential in the teens who walk through the doors of his band room.

“I think sometimes we sell them short,” Clayton said. “It’s been my experience that most of them will rise to the occasion. They just have to be motivated.”

Motivating teenagers in 2016 is a completely different game than it was in 1994, and Clayton says he has had to adapt to make sure he stays connected with students as times change.

“Kids are kids. They’ve been the same for 21 years. (But) how to reach them is always changing,” he said. “When we opened, there wasn’t a cell phone on campus. So technology has played a big part.”

Technology has been incorporated into almost every facet of Clayton’s instruction, from designing and writing shows to evaluating performances and recording sessions, and even to grading.

“Technology has changed how we do everything,” he said.

But there have been a few constants over the past two decades.

Clayton’s band room remains tucked in the back corner of the school, and his office retains that same old carpet. And the band director still expects his young charges to always be on time and always give their best.

And, Clayton said, the band remains a closely knit family, but that is only made possible by the involvement of all – teachers, students and parents.

“I’ve got lots of good help,” he said. “I did not do this by myself.”

District officials say the search for Clayton’s successor is in progress, but the longtime band director will surely be missed.

“I know,” Mack-Foxworth said, “that his legacy will last for many years to come.”

Categories: Education, Richland County