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A small-town band is thinking big

Posted on May 1, 2022

Updated on May 7, 2022

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The trailer that hauls Princeton High School band gear has a new vinyl wrap thanks to students' fundraising efforts.

Debbie Herrera | Johnstonian News

The trailer that hauls Princeton High School band gear has a new vinyl wrap thanks to students' fundraising efforts.

Philip Stone teaches a band class at Princeton High School.

Debbie Herrera | Johnstonian News

Philip Stone teaches a band class at Princeton High School.

The trailer that hauls Princeton High School band gear has a new vinyl wrap thanks to students' fundraising efforts.

Debbie Herrera | Johnstonian News

The trailer that hauls Princeton High School band gear has a new vinyl wrap thanks to students' fundraising efforts.

Philip Stone teaches a band class at Princeton High School.

Debbie Herrera | Johnstonian News

Philip Stone teaches a band class at Princeton High School.

Philip Stone teaches a band class at Princeton High School.
The trailer that hauls Princeton High School band gear has a new vinyl wrap thanks to students' fundraising efforts.

dherrera@johnstoniannews.com | 919-284-2295

PRINCETON — Philip Stone, the new band director at Princeton High, wanted to replace the vinyl wrap adorning the trailer that hauls the band’s equipment.

But the band had no money. “We wouldn’t afford the re-wrap, so I got white tape, put it over the former director’s name and wrote my name there in Sharpie,” recalled Stone, who joined Princeton High last August.

His students did patch duty too.

“A couple of our students went out before our first competition, got clear packing tape, and anything that was peeling, they rolled backed and taped it,” Stone said.

But today, the trailer has a new vinyl wrap, and that’s because of band members, Stone said. “The students went around town to local businesses, families, and they would say, ‘Hey, I’m with the band. Here’s what we do. Would you be willing to sponsor us?’ ” he said.

Before, sponsors had come to the band, not the other way round, Stone said. “Sponsorships were done, but it was never pushed, and there was never an outreach,” he said. “It was always ‘I am willing to sponsor the band,’ never ‘Will you sponsor us?’ ”

One student got the sponsorship ball rolling, Stone said. “I was trying to figure out ways to raise money,” he said. “I had only been working for a couple of weeks, and one of the students came up and said, ‘Hey, my brother wants to sponsor.’ I said OK. And I got a sponsorship form, and I came up with the levels.”

“Then more students said they had people who wanted to sponsor, so I gave them the forms, and they walked around town getting sponsors from local businesses,” Stone said. “Getting sponsors is what helped us get a lot of what we needed to get.”

For better or worse, it takes money to field a marching band, Stone said. “You have to pay to go to marching band competitions,” he said. “You have to pay the bus driver, the gas, food.”

But competitions allow large audiences to hear high school bands, which is really the point of it all, Stone said. “If nobody knows who you are, then what’s the purpose of the band?” he said. “If you’re playing music to nobody, why are you playing music?”

Stone was doing his student teaching at North Johnston High when he learned that Princeton would have an opening for a band director. So he reached out to Robert Heller, who was retiring after some 16 years at Princeton. “He invited me to come down and watch the band for the day,” Stone said. “I did that and did my interview there.”

Stone said it likely helped that he contacted Heller personally. “The former director told me that I was the only one that reached out to him about the job,” he said. “Other people might have applied, but I was the only one that reached out to him directly.”

Stone hadn’t always planned to be a band director. After high school, he figured he’d attend a trade school to become a mechanic.

But Stone was in his high school band, and in his sophomore year, his career goal changed. “It was in my 10th grade year that I would see things happen and think ‘This could be done this way,’ or ‘What if we did this?’” he said. “Then, as I started thinking about it more, this isn’t something I am thinking about, this is something I want to do.”

And Stone has no plans to be at Princeton for just a couple of years before moving on to a larger high school with a bigger band. “I always said that I wanted to be the head of a small-town band,” he said. “I went to Garner High School, which isn’t a small town anymore, but they keep a lot of the same energy as one.”

Stone knows that band directors come and go from smaller schools. “I decided after watching this cycle that I was going to get the job and stay there for as long as I can,” he said.

Stone figures the Princeton community would like that too. “In a small town, they like continuity,” he said. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And that’s what I’m hoping to do here — to come here and be a constant.”

Stone also plans to be at the helm when the Princeton High band travels to Atlanta, Georgia, for the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31. This year, the Peach Bowl is a semifinal game in the College Football Playoff.

“It’s a big event, and to be able to represent a small town is not only a benefit for the band but also a benefit for the town,” said Stone, who wants the band to be an integral part of the community. “We are trying to be the band for the town.”

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