Pignataro Finishes First Band Season with High Hopes for the Future

Tackling the 2018 Panther Marching Band Season was a challenge, but reaped great rewards.

Cece Olszewski, Staff Writer

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Strath Haven’s new Band Director, Nick Pignataro, reflects on the obstacles and successes of his first season as band director and discusses the future of the Panther Marching Band.

“Hands down, the best part is interacting with students,” said Pignataro. “I miss them when they’re not here. It’s crazy to say this, but I sometimes wish that they’re here when they aren’t. I love the interactions, and they really keep me on my toes.” Throughout the season, Pignataro emphasized the importance of self care and managing stress, showing that he genuinely cares about his students and their well-being. The worst part of his job? “You’re just constantly tired, and you’re constantly—not stressed, but overwhelmed. You’re just tired all the time. I’m sure students can relate to that.”

When he first took on the role of band director at Haven, Mr. Pignataro was pleasantly surprised by the amount of dedicated adults and student leaders that contributed to the many responsibilities of the band. He noticed that he didn’t have to be physically in charge of everything, remarking, “I felt much more like a CEO than a hands-on teacher. In past roles, I’ve always had to do every little thing, but here, there’s other adults and actually tons and tons of student leaders that handle so many of the day-to-day operations.”

A common obstacle with the marching band is that for students participating in fall sports, their preseason typically conflicts with band camp. This has always been an issue at Strath Haven, and according to Pignataro, “We’re off to a good start. Because I was hired so late in the summer—just days before band camp began—I had to react to everything and couldn’t be proactive. I think there was a perception that as a new band director, I was discouraging people from doing other things, and that’s simply not true. I think band students make better athletes and athletes make better band students.” Mr. Pignataro encourages students to pursue all activities that interest them, and believes they should never feel stressed out about conflicting schedules. “Strath Haven students have lots going on, so sometimes they’re stressed out. But band should not be stressful.”

This past season, the Panther Marching Band performed a number of both classic and modern pieces, from “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen to Pitbull’s “Give Me Everything.” Pignataro chooses the pieces for his ensembles based on a couple of factors. “A lot of it comes from my training and background in education; music that I’ve studied, conducted, heard or performed. From there, it comes from my own personal exploration. I study music on my own all the time. Also, students often come to me with suggestions.” To pick new pieces for the marching band’s upcoming season, Pignataro posted a survey to the band’s Google Classroom page. Each selection was labeled with a recording and an explanation for why the piece would work well for the band. One of the suggested pieces was Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream”, with the explanation: “Because, Katy Perry.” I was asked by several students to ask Mr. Pignataro what his absolute favorite Katy Perry song is, and he is proud to report that it is “Roar.”

What about Bandfront? What obstacles do they have to deal with? According to accounts from many Bandfront members, there has always seemed to be an underlying hierarchy among the various positions on Bandfront. In the past, Haven students have raised concerns about this controversial topic: Are the positions all viewed equally in the eyes of Bandfront members and directors? Will Silks ever get skirts? Putting much thought into his answer, Pignataro replied, “I’ve noticed that the three groups have three different roles, and they all function differently. If students feel like some are better than others, I don’t see it that way. I’m realizing that the Dance Line specializes in this, the Dance Team specializes in this, and the Silks have skills that the Dance Line and Dance Team don’t have. With Ms. Hahn and Ms. Vernon retiring, one of the things we want to continue to do is keep the high standard of excellence while encouraging people to realize what their skills are. I’d like to celebrate how they’re different a little bit more. And Silks are getting skirts! They’re getting skirts next year.”

Another addition to the Panther Marching Band is Mr. Pignataro’s updated procedure for choosing student leaders. Major student leadership positions are now chosen by interview, as opposed to being selected by the band director based on performance and leadership alone. “I like the interview opportunities because it allows me to [communicate] with students more than I normally would and it gives everybody yet another chance to prove themselves to the staff,” said Pignataro. “I also think it makes it a little bit more fair and it gives everybody the understanding that this is a really big deal.” Pignataro wants students to put the time in before the season even starts, rather than being given a position they didn’t expect, forcing them to take on a role they weren’t interested in.

Following Jack Hontz’ legendary 34 year career as band director, Pignataro has been honoring Mr. Hontz’s values of inclusivity and excellence for the band. Regarding any new traditions with the band in the future, Pignataro doesn’t necessarily want to influence the band himself; he would rather have the band influence him. He wants to increase the musicality and the responsibility of the students, while continuing everything that Hontz did, to ensure the success of the band. “It’s really about what the students want,” said Pignataro. “I’ve already been to high school, I’ve already done this, and this isn’t for me, it’s for the students. Whatever they want, we’ll do.”

So, what is the future of the Panther Marching Band? Mr. Pignataro will mostly leave that up to the students. All we can expect in the future is a superb level of performance and brilliant energy, something the Panther Marching Band has always been praised for. Pignataro has taken on the responsibilities and obstacles that come with running a band of over 400 students with a contagious level of confidence and positivity that will continue to lead the band to success for seasons to come.