The New Mexico Activities Association (NMAA) has offered a state championship in concert band for almost 20 years, and Chuck Gerheart’s bands at Cobre High School have dominated the competition. In 15 of the past 16 years, his bands have won the NMAA state championship – all while competing in a higher classification.
Gerheart, a recipient of the NFHS Music Association Outstanding Educator Award in 2013, petitioned to the NMAA to compete in Class AAA, even though Cobre is a smaller school, because he didn’t think it was fair that his high school band was competing against bands in Class A-AA that included middle school students.
“High school kids do things better than middle school kids, whether it’s athletics or music,” Gerheart said. “I just didn’t think it was the right thing to do to kind of be a bully and take high school kids to compete against middle school kids.”
Due to an NMAA reorganization, Cobre now competes in Class AAAA, but it sees the same opponents there as before. No matter what classification it competes in, the band’s desire for achievement and a more creative outlet never changes.
“Testing has gotten crazy on these kids,” Gerheart said. “They have very little outlet now, but making music is fun and when they do it at a high level, the excitement they get from achieving that is the best part.”
Gerheart and his wife, who teaches band at the middle school that feeds in to Cobre, don’t necessarily look for the best musicians when forming the band. Instead, they look for kids with good character and have even dismissed students who were good musicians, but lacked the character they were looking for.
“I’d rather take kids that are good kids and then teach them how to play the instrument,” Gerheart said. “We have quality kids that we can educate and coach up. Then, it’s just getting them to believe in themselves – that they can achieve anything with some effort, hard work and learned responsibility.
“That seems to click in with them pretty well.”
That’s not to say the pressure of winning so many championships doesn’t affect them. Gerheart said he tries to keep the focus off of winning and more on just doing the best they can.
“My goal is not to win state championships,” he said. “My goal is to have the kids play to the best of their ability. We shoot for about a 96 percent accuracy rate, which is pretty high, honestly, but we’re really just trying to concentrate on what we do, not trying to be better than anybody else.”
Keeping the competition internal is about all the band can do, especially when state championships are determined not only by a band’s fundamental skills, but also its ability to interpret the music. Bands play three pieces – Cobre usually plays a march, a lyrical ballad and a closing piece that combines multiple styles – and three out-of-state judges make the call.
“In athletics, it’s easy. They either score or don’t score,” Gerheart said. “For us, if the judge doesn’t like something that we do or how we interpret it, it could cost us some points. Most of the time, if you’re doing all the fundamentals right, it’s just open to interpretation.
“We just try to interpret the best we can what we think the music is about and hopefully they agree.”
They’ve agreed more often than not, as have the band’s fans. The support the band has received over the years from the school and community has been overwhelming.
“Our high school has been great to us,” Gerheart said. “They treat the band really well and that’s not always the case at other schools I’ve been in or observed.”
This year’s state championships will be held April 24-25 in Rio Rancho and preparations at Cobre are already underway.
“Hopefully, I’ve taught them some things so that when they leave me, they can be successful in whatever they do,” Gerheart said. “When they do their job right and come prepared, it’s so much fun to stand on the podium and be able to experience making music with them.”
Juli Doshan is the graphic arts technician/editorial assistant in the NFHS Publications and Communications Department.