Music alum’s love for band is contagious
During her days as a Heidelberg music major, Dana (Miller) Willman, ’89, was placed at Seneca East Schools for her student teaching. Little did she know then that Seneca East would become her permanent professional home.
With the long-time band director at Seneca East retiring, Dana was offered the job while on her honeymoon. The district has a very strong marching band tradition, and it was too good an offer to pass up.
Seneca East has been a great fit for Dana, who has taught just about everything in the district’s music program. Twenty-nine years and going strong, Dana loves what she does. Today, she directs the Marching Band (5th through 12th grade) and the Jazz Band and teaches 7th-grade general music and high school music theory.
It’s that same small school atmosphere that Dana values – so much so that she has sent a stream of her high school students to enroll at Heidelberg or perform with various ensembles on campus. Several of her students have even gone on to become band directors.
Dana’s experience in the Heidelberg Marching Band was strong career preparation. “Different professors and different approaches to teaching were really good for me,” she says.
“I truly loved being in the band, doing whatever we did, just to be with my friends and to get to play my trumpet. It was a challenge learning new music and halftime shows, and we always got along with the others in the group. We weren’t large, but we liked our style.”
Marching Band also was the source of some of Dana’s best ‘Berg memories. She recalls summer band camps, marching in shows and piling into cars to travel across town to Columbian Stadium on game days.
“We also got to help select the newest Marching Band uniforms. They had flared black pants, a loose white top, a belt that hung down and a black cowboy hat with one side bent up,” she remembers. “At the time, we thought it was a very sharp look!”
Dana is pleased but not surprised to see the progress the new Marching Band has made under the direction of her friend, Jon Waters.
The Willman family got to know Jon when their son, Austin, a percussion player with the vaunted Ohio State University Marching Band at the time, was hospitalized following an accident. Jon visited Austin in the hospital and brought him a drumstick.
“We got to know Jon, he knew our family and we have just stayed friends,” Dana says.
She was among many who were thrilled when Jon came on board at Heidelberg. “I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, what a blessing.’ I know Jon’s experience and his style. Heidelberg is very lucky to have someone with his energy to recruit new students and grow the program. He’s the man to do this,” she says.
Jon has been generous enough to visit Seneca East a number of times to work with Dana’s band before competitions. He also directed the Middle School Honors Band. This year, when she was looking for a new experience for the band, she again looked to Jon.
During HU’s first home football game on Sept. 23, there was the Seneca East Marching Band – 77 members strong – marching down Greenfield Street to take its place alongside the HU Marching Band for part of the halftime performance. It was a great experience for the students.
“They got to watch a college band perform and loved it. They got to march on turf, and they loved that,” she said.
Three recent Seneca East grads are marching in the ‘Berg band this fall. Dana has attended their halftime and preview performances to show her support. “With Heidelberg being so close to my home, why not continue to visit campus?” she says.
Today, Dana continues to learn from Jon “just from watching his productions and when he’s here working with my students.”
She’s also kept her foot in the door at her alma mater, stepping in as the substitute director of the new Heidelberg Youth Wind Ensemble last year when director Elizabeth Tracy was on maternity leave.
“We’ve got to keep the band strong for the good of the School of Music & Theatre,” Dana says.
She is one alum who’s doing her part.