Kenneth Ruff is the director of University Bands at North Carolina A&T State University, one of eight historically black colleges and universities performing in the 16th Honda Battle of the Bands Invitational Showcase in Atlanta on Saturday. A $20,000 grant to support the university’s music education program accompanies what will be the Blue & Gold Marching Machine’s sixth appearance at the invitational. The theme is March On: Dream Together.

What is it like to direct a marching band you were once a member of?
It’s pretty unique. I think that’s one of the reasons we can keep the traditions going, though. It’s always been innovative, but under my direction we expanded and crossed over into core-style concepts as well as traditional marching-style concepts. I emphasize teamwork with my staff and it’s more student-oriented because they have a voice in decisions as well. My dissertation is on school culture and how to influence that culture. I use some of those concepts like collaboration and making everyone a vital part of the organization by giving them a voice on something. Sometimes I have to be a dictator, but oftentimes its shared leadership.

How will the $20,000 grant impact A&T’s band program?
We don’t have a lot of scholarship dollars for the students so we’ll give it to people so they can stay in school or get their books. There are some programs that have great scholarship money so they’re able to attract those who may be exceptional players or exceptional academically. We have students coming for our educational programs but as far as attracting those high-level players, we might not be able to attract them given what other schools can offer. I lose quite a few that way every year. We are one of the top HBCU bands out there so, because of social media, people all over the US are able to see what we’re doing and students from out of state, of course, need more funding.

What most impresses you about this year’s band members?
This group is very talented, and they learn quickly. Musically, I think this group is very flexible. With that flexibility they adapt quickly, and so if we’re putting together a show in a week or two or three, they’ll do well at it. They’re very musical, so they’re one of our better sounding groups other than just being great performers.

What can fans expect at the show?
It will be theme-oriented but expect excitement, not your typical halftime performance by an HBCU group — we stepped out the box and mixed that up last year. And wonderful, wonderful arrangements. If I can clear the snow off the practice fields so we can practice out there, I think it’s going to be very entertaining, unique and look and sound good.

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