It was a Friday night in 2011 when Woodrow Wilson High School faced Highland Park High School in a playoff football game. When halftime rolled around and the players left the field, anyone watching could see a chasm between the two schools.
As Woodrow’s band took the field, less than 20 musicians lined up in formation. They stumbled around and made some noise, but the band did not do the historic East Dallas high school justice.
Chris Evetts, in his second year as an assistant band director at Highland Park High, winced as he watched the Woodrow band meander about the field, while silently making a promise to himself: “I am going to be working there next year.”
Evetts did not always dream of being a band director. He majored in radio, TV and film at TCU, and worked on the children’s show “Barney” as a handler, escorting the friendly purple dinosaur on tours across the country.
He also landed a job with the Glen Miller Orchestra playing saxophone and clarinet, and traveled the world with the famous group. After getting his master’s degree in Liverpool, England, he returned to the states and realized he didn’t have a job.
His musical background led him to accept the position as band director in his hometown at Clarksville High School in East Texas. He later moved to the Dallas area, where he worked in Frisco, Lake Highlands and Highland Park.
Along the way, he found his calling.
After the fateful playoff football game, he would joke with his colleagues about moving from the gilded hallways of the Park Cities to East Dallas. “I looked at Woodrow and saw some kids that I could help,” he says.
He called about an opening at J.L. Long Middle School in 2012 and learned that the Woodrow band director was leaving that year as well. He lucked into learning about the job before it was even posted. During his interview, he told principal Kyle Richardson, “There is no reason why we can’t be the top performing band in the district.”
At the time, Woodrow was the worst. But he was hopeful launching the 2012-13 school year as the band’s new leader.
He found a program in shambles, with just two-dozen members playing instruments that weren’t suitable for student use.
“The only thing you could do with them is make lamps out of them,” he says of the instruments.
“It was a blow-off class. No one took it seriously,” says Woodrow alum Julia Aves, describing band before Evetts’ arrival. “When Evetts came in, he actually cared and wanted us to do well.”
Evetts knew he needed to do two things: Establish a band booster club and get the students in private lessons. One funded the other, more or less.
As the support began rolling in, things started to change.
“We are not like the big schools with all kinds of money,” says current band parent Carrie Furman. “That impacts the band so much.”
Evetts spent summer mornings painting the football lines on grass fields for the marching band to practice, paying for the white stripes out of his own pocket.
“He gives away his personal life and time in a way most aren’t,” says current band parent Maria Hasbany.
“He was like the personification of what people think of when they think of a band teacher,” says 2015 alumnus Isaac Morales, a French horn player. “He was so happy to be there.”
Evetts pushed to build leaders from within the band, and he developed team-building retreats over the summer to establish a positive culture.
“Band is truly like a family this year,” says senior drum major Archer Hasbany. “The upperclassman are like parents and role models for the freshman.”
“I have seen my little boy turn into a fine young man under the tutelage of the band program,” says Lauren Larson, whose son, Canyon, is a junior in band.
“We worked really hard to achieve that culture of caring,” says senior drum major Manuela Arroyave, who was recently accepted to Harvard University.
Evetts encouraged his students to take ownership of the band, and they did. This year, when he was out with a kidney stone, the students took attendance and ran rehearsal by themselves, leaving the substitute without much to do.
Evetts proved himself an outlet for angsty teens by offering guidance without judgment for students who needed a place to belong and feel welcome. When one musician didn’t show up for a band trip, Evetts directed the bus to the student’s home to pick him up.
“Mr. Evetts turned the band into a family where your academics and personal problems were just as important as the music,” says 2016 graduate and French horn player Adrian Turner.
Over the years, his efforts paid off.
“People at the football games started to enjoy our shows more and we even started getting thanks from the football team after the game,” Turner says.
After ranking as one of the worst performing bands in the district when Evetts arrived, this year’s band advanced to the Area Marching Contest for the first time in recent memory, scoring higher than any Dallas ISD band and receiving perfect scores at the regional competition.
The band that started with less than 20 now stretches from end zone to end zone on the football field, with a whopping 114 musicians this year.
Fittingly, Evetts recently was named as one of the East Dallas Chamber of Commerce Teachers of the Year. He was the only educator whose nominations came entirely from students.
Evetts, who welcomed his first child last month, knows he could not developed the band without help.
“I want to emphasize how magical the Woodrow community is,” he says. “Anytime we have needed anything, I have been able to ask for it and it appears.”
While the band’s success in competitions is impressive, it’s Evett’s impact on the students that is most noteworthy.
“People knew that he believed in us,” Aves says. “Band made me more confident as a person. I am not afraid to get out there and try something new.”
Help support the Woodrow band by attending its Feb. 18 fundraising concert at the Granada Theater. Go to
granadatheater.com for tickets.
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