HAMILTON - There’s an image of the American cowboy moving from place to place and living life by his own philosophy. The new Hamilton High School (HHS) band director, Zack Corpus, fits that bill.
When you first meet him he is quick to say with a smile that his last name is spelled “just Like Corpus Christi,” in Texas. Corpus was born in Dodge City, Kan., “the cowboy capitol of the world,” Corpus said, citing the town’s nickname.
Corpus is as genial and easy-going as any band director could be. He is quick with a laugh or a joke, and humor is a philosophy that he incorporates into what could be an otherwise regimented marching band practice.
“When they’re out there standing at attention, it’s okay and useful sometimes to crack a joke and be a little loose,” Corpus said, after a recent afternoon band practice. Corpus said the humor helps when he may have to call in a student for an infraction. “I say, ‘Hey, listen you’ve got to be disciplined but there is no reason you can’t have a little fun out here.’ They are 16 yearsold. They’ve got to learn the process, but you also have to understand that they are teenagers. They have to grow up and have some fun as kids.”
It’s a philosophy Corpus, 32, said he picked up early when he began playing tuba as a high school freshman after a stint as a trumpet player in middle school. Teeth braces interfered with his ability to play trumpet, so Corpus sought advice from his band director.
“He said ‘My tuba player just moved to another city. Let’s give tuba a try.’ And from that first day I was able to nail it and it felt right. And, I kind of look like a tuba player, too. I’ve got that stereotypical tuba player attitude about things. Sometimes people call us the jokesters of the band because we’re in the back of the room, the farthest from the director, making jokes and having a good ol’ time while the others are trying to get work done; the same things I get on to my kids for all the time,” Corpus said, laughing.
Corpus sought further help from tuba player and music professor Phil Black, at nearby Wichita State University.
“Phil is kind of a goofy guy,” Corpus said, noting a universal personality among tuba players.
“Tuba players are goofy people and we had a good time. I heard him play and it was like the first time you hear Eddie Van Halen play guitar. I was like, ‘Dude, what just happened? I didn’t know a tuba could do that.’ I was sold. I was a freshmen and a fire was lit.” Corpus said the next year he earned first chair playing tuba in the state honor band.
Corpus said he hopes his HHS students will realize that same fire can be found within themselves.
“I want them to see exactly what music can do and how much it can change their lives, whether they go into music or not. A majority of them may not go into music and that’s fine. They are going to be engineers, farmers, welders, veterinarians, doctors, or nurses. They are going to be all these different professions, but my goal for them is that the music remains something they can go to throughout life as a release from their everyday jobs. My hope for them is that they keep music in their life in some way.”
After graduating from Dodge City High School in 2004, Corpus attended Kansas State University (KSU) where he was a member of the Pride of Wild Cat Land marching band. After receiving his bachelors at KSU, Corpus attended the University of North Texas in Denton where he earned a master’s degree in music.
“I decided, instead of going straight into work, I made the decision to get my doctorate and I went to the University of Memphis,” Corpus said.
At the University of Memphis Corpus conducted the Mighty Sounds of the South basketball pep-band, a spot that allowed him to carry lessons forward into his current position as director of bands at HHS.
“There is nothing that could get you prepared for a Friday night football game quite like a producer screaming in your ear during a nationally televised basketball game that the commercial is over. Timing is like that,” Corpus said, snapping his fingers. “If you are not on time, the networks will just run over you.”
After completing his doctoral degree, Corpus became the assistant band director at Arlington High School in Memphis, a position he held for three years before coming to Hamilton this past summer.
Corpus said he couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Hamilton and certain places he is familiar with in Kansas.
“My first impression was how much it reminded me of my hometown, Dodge City. But it also reminded me of Fort Larned, Kan., where I worked during the summers as a grad student at a little national historic site. And for about nine years I worked with band camps in Buhler, Kan. Buhler’s colors are maroon and white and I was like, oh my gosh, I’m back in Buhler right now,” Corpus said.
“That sense of comfortability and what I was seeing, I thought this could be really cool.”
But Corpus learned just how close-knit Hamilton is and how far from family he was during his first days at HHS when he learned of the school’s testing policy.
“On the first day that we had meetings for in-service, they were saying how a teacher can’t oversee a standardized test to a student they are related to. I thought, ‘well great, I’m the only one in the room who doesn’t have a relative in all of the classes.’ That’s cool to me and I miss that sense of home and that sense of community that was lacking in places where I’ve lived like Dallas and Memphis.
“That’s what attracted me to Hamilton. It’s a chance for me to get back to my roots and meet a bunch of new people and have a great time doing it.”
Corpus said he hopes to remain at Hamilton High School but notes there is a lot of turnover in the teaching profession, something he experienced as a high school student.
“I had four directors in four years of high school and I know that’s what some of these kids have been through. I’m the third band director a lot of them have seen.”
Corpus said his last band director at Dodge City High School helped him put it all in perspective.
“It was tough for me to relate to her, because I was an angsty teenager. But when I look back, she really helped me continue in band and go forward with it. I fell in love with it and that’s what I want to help these kids do. I want them to enjoy band. I want them to know that even though there is a lot of shifting and changing that happens, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a positive attitude and still get something you love out of that.”
See complete story in the Journal Record.