The distinction of being named the inaugural member of the CAPA Hall of Fame is one of many accomplishments in Brent’s long career as a music educator and mentor to thousands of Northwestern State students and colleagues.
Brent served at NSU for 30 years as director of bands and director of CAPA before his retirement last year. During that time, he built one of the best marching band programs in the nation. He also served as conductor of the NSU Wind Symphony.
“When I first arrived there were 48 students at my first band rehearsal but there were these incredible new facilities and NSU just seemed, even then, to be such a special place with great opportunities,” Brent said. “I was just crazy and young enough just to start recruiting. I remember one January within my first couple of years, while still on semester break, I took a University vehicle and drove to high schools as far south as Houma and New Orleans and as far north as Monroe and over to Shreveport in five days recruiting and visiting schools. Most other college band directors were still on vacation. I was working. I basically lived out of the car.”
Brent’s recruiting efforts paid off and he still utilizes many connections and former students who teach music across the country, in addition to visiting schools.
“My vision was just to grow the band in size and quality. I had a great support from everyone, so I can’t take all the credit. That same support lasted through three presidents, numerous vice presidents and alumni directors. I have always felt the University has done all that it could, considering the restraints on the budget in almost every year I’ve been here, to support both the band and the School of CAPA.”
Brent said he always tried to be a model to his students and use the band program as one they could imitate to have successful band programs once they began their careers.
“That is exactly what Vincent R. DiNino gave me at the University of Texas. He was the director of the Longhorn Band when I was an undergraduate student as well as the assistant director James Hejl. I also have many great friends who are successful music educators and I have tried to model their programs as well over the years, especially Ms. Paula Crider, director emeritus of the Longhorn Band. She is now retired but continues to give clinics and conduct honor bands all over the world. She is a really special friend and we have had her on campus many times during the past 30 years.”
Brent’s fascination with music began early. He started playing the piano at age six and trombone in fifth grade at age 10. He was a section leader in the Bonham, Texas, High School Warrior Band and graduated in 1969. He said he knew from his early days in high school that he wanted to major in music and decided on music education during his senior year. He earned a bachelor of music education at the University of Texas at Austin in 1974 and a master of music in conducting in 1981.
Brent’s first band director jobs were in the Austin, Texas, Independent School District at Pearce Middle School and McCallum High School, where the marching band twice placed in the top 5 in the AAAAA state marching contest. The concert band was named in the top 10 one of those years. After earning his master’s degree, he joined the staff at Nicholls State.
“Northwestern was looking for a band director but I did not apply for the job as I had just arrived at Nicholls. Richard Jennings called me about potential interest. He heard about me from J. Robert Smith who was the NSU symphony conductor. I had known Dr. Smith since my undergraduate days at UT because he was pursuing a doctoral degree in the band program and I was an undergraduate student.”
Brent was so impressed with Northwestern, Natchitoches and the people he met, he accepted the job when offered by the school and Dr. Tom Paul Southerland, who was vice president of Academic Affairs at that time.
“There have been so many outstanding performances by the thousands of band students I’ve had the pleasure to work with over the years. I’ll always remember the band performances at the old State Fair game. Our fans were so excited. And there was the year at the Stephen F. Austin game in Nacogdoches that a huge rainstorm erupted just as the band began the performance. It rained so hard and the wind was so strong, you could only hear the band on the field. The film of the performance was just a sea of rain coming down on the field but our kids and fans were so excited and we won the Southland Conference Football Championship that year at that game.”
But along with the highs came the lows. In 1986, Northwestern State declared financial exigency and the university’s future was uncertain.
“After the initial shock, I saw it as an opportunity to rebuild the university and make truly exciting things happen…and that is what did happen,” he said. “I can’t say enough about the positive attitude and hard work of the faculty at NSU and especially in CAPA during the past five years.”
Still, there have been other recent highlights. In 2011, the band was a finalist for the Sudler Trophy, an award that recognizes collegiate marching bands of particular excellence that have made outstanding contributions to the American way of life. In 2008, the Spirit of Northwestern Demon Marching Band was named one of the top eight in the country by the website collegeotr.com. That year, Brent received the Outstanding Bandmaster Award for Louisiana from the Epsilon Chapter of Phi Beta Mu International Bandmasters Fraternity. In 2007, he was inducted into the Louisiana Music Educators Association Hall of Fame. Brent received the President’s Distinguished Award in recognition of his work at NSU in 2002. In 2011, he was named an honorary alumnus of Northwestern State and the NSU Band Hall was formally named for him.
Now that the baton has been formally passed to Dr. Greg Handel as CAPA director and Dr. Jeff Mathews as director of bands, Brent will remain on staff as director of operations and special projects for the School. He is engaged in recruiting for the university and CAPA and will assist with student teacher observations and fund raising for the NSU Foundation.
“I am most grateful for the support of both [NSU Presidents] Dr. Robert Alost and Dr. Randy Webb. CAPA would not be what it is today without their support and especially the past few years with all of the budget cuts. Dr. Webb and Brenda have been a rock during this period.”
The President’s Command Performance will begin at 6 p.m. with a cocktail reception and silent auction in the Alumni Plaza and Orville Hanchey Gallery, followed by a concluding musical performance in Magale Recital Hall. Presale tickets are $65 per person or $125 per couple with reserved tables of eight available. Sponsorships are available at the patron and corporate levels. All proceeds will benefit the Northwestern State University Foundation.
To purchase tickets or sponsorships, contact Vanner Erikson, assistant director of Alumni Affairs, at (318) 357-4414.
Information is also available at northwesternalum-ni.com.