When members of the Lyon County middle and high schools’ bands and their parents heard that the new band director spent nearly a quarter-century in the U.S. Army, most probably thought about the discipline and precision he would bring to the job.
But at least two things they might not have expected him to bring are a sense of humor and a wife who works as hard for the band as he does.
“We moved here June 2 and started the job June 3, even though I didn’t start officially until early July,” said Otis French, the new band director. “We have felt so welcomed. My wife, Lori, and I both have been thrilled with the community. The people have been friendly, helpful, and supportive. We’re really glad to be here.”
When he graduated from high school, French had plans to become a school band director, but the U.S. Army took him in a different direction.
“I went into the military out of high school and had intended on a short-term military career, but stayed in the Army for 24 years,” he said. “Along the way, I (earned) my bachelor’s degree at St. Leo (Florida) College (now University).” He eventually earned a master’s degree in music education at Indiana University.
Then, “In my last assignment in the Army, I commanded the Army ground forces band in Atlanta. I also completed the coursework for my doctorate,” he said. “I retired from the Army after that. I got hired as a college teacher in eastern Pennsylvania, with the Doctor of Musical Arts or DMA, a performance degree with a major in wind conducting and a minor in choral conducting.”
French started as an Army Private First Class bandsman, with his primary instrument being the euphonium, or baritone horn. He describes it as “kind of a tuba.” He also played trombone in various bands. Clearly, brass is his specialty. However, he explained, “Every person who gets a music education degree must become competent on every instrument.” He said basic knowledge of music and standard chord progressions help.
In turn, he believes that for students, music is an excellent background for learning. It shares the element of precision with math. Then, with the two hemispheres of the brain, one side helps the other.
Playing in military bands sets him apart from most others in the service, but don’t think that gave him or other Army musicians a pass from grueling physical fitness courses, repelling, paratrooper training, marksmanship, or other standard courses. In his military career, he progressed from private first class to sergeant in the enlisted ranks and then, as an officer, reached the rank of major. He also was stationed in Germany and other locales overseas, adding to his musical worldview.
A number of band members and many of their parents greeted French and his wife upon their arrival and helped them unload the contents of their moving van into their new home. Otis French calls his wife his “secret weapon” and says, “she helps out with the band and gets involved in the community.” Between them, they have five children and two grandchildren.
Band parents also enthused over Lori French, her personality and hard work.
As many as 30 middle and high school students play in this year’s band and 23 will perform in marching band, the director noted.
French thanks and commends Lyon County teacher Caroline Wright, who instructs band for students from kindergarten through fifth grade, seeing that as “a great feeder program.”
“I think (Dr. French) is really going to bring this band very far,” said freshman trumpeter Willa French (no relation), who has played in the band since sixth grade. “If someone is getting out of line, he can get us right back to focus and that is what we need right now.”
Flutist Demi York is entering her third year in band. “This year is going to be the best ever, I already can tell,” she said with a big smile.
Sophomore Makayla Brown has been a band member for more than two years, now marching in the color guard. “He is more strict (than previous directors), but he knows what he wants to do, where he wants people to be, and how to make the band sound better,” she said. “He also has a fun, comedic side. He’s really funny, when it comes to some things.”
French values his students and their parents, saying many contribute a great deal of time and talent. Several Lyon County band parents at band camp said they also value French.
“I’ve been with Lyon County band since 2011,” said Jenet Keller. “I now have two kids left in the band. All five of my kids have been in it. I really enjoy his future look for the band, the fact that he does really well with the kids and understands each kid’s (musical potential). He’s just a really amazing band director that is moving Lyon County forward.”
“I actually have three kids in the band,” added another band mom, Brandi Fralick. “I am extremely happy. Every day, I just wonder what we did to get such a great person to come here. We’re very thankful for everything that he’s doing, what he’s done so far, and (the potential) that he brings to this band.”