Sequoyah band director hits 46 years in music
Sequoyah High School band director Sam Morris stands next to a plethora of trophies and awards his band students have won during the 10 years he’s been band director. Although a Sac and Fox citizen, he has taught many Cherokee students during his career. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Sequoyah High School band director Sam Morris, right, conducts a practice with SHS band students on May 2 in the school’s band room in Tahlequah. Although a Sac and Fox citizen, he has taught many Cherokee students during his 46-year career. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – For more than 40 years, Sac and Fox Nation citizen Sam Morris has been in marching band music via participation, college, teaching and directing. He is currently the band director for Sequoyah High School’s marching band.
Morris took interest in music in the fourth grade, playing trumpet for his school’s marching band. He continued it in junior high and high school. After high school, he joined the military. And after four years of service, he attended Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, where he joined the school’s marching band.
Morris said he went on tours with the HINU marching band to North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Arizona and New Mexico. “Most of the time we went to government boarding schools to play. We used it as a recruitment for coming to Haskell.”
It was on those tours that he realized he wanted to be a band director. So Morris earned an associate degree at HINU before transferring to Northeastern State University in Tahlequah where he earned a bachelor’s degree in music education.
He interned and taught at Stilwell Public Schools for two years, Riverside Indian School in Anadarko for two years and Fort Gibson Public Schools for 11 years. He retired after returning to Stilwell to teach for 17 years.
“After 36 years I retired from public school. I laid out for about six months. I knew that I would probably get back into teaching, but I didn’t want to go to Arkansas. I didn’t want to move to Texas. I just kind of started thinking and looking,” Morris said.
He became interested in SHS after realizing it did not have a marching band. “They had the athletics and they’re winning, but it was lacking something. I thought band was what it was lacking.”
After talking to Cherokee Nation officials about starting a band at SHS, he was hired as band director in 2009. When he started, only seven students were interested. But by his third year, he had enough to begin marching.
“I’ve always told my band kids size isn’t a factor. I’m not worried about how big we are. Yes, I would like to have more people, but all I’m worried about is you going, doing your best, playing your instrument and the rest of it will take care of itself. We have no substitutes like football has or like basketball has, everybody in the band is a starter. They have to play because we are small. Everybody has to play to contribute. I’ll just say that we sound bigger than we look,” he said.
With 27 students this school year, Sequoyah’s marching band competed in competitions, including the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association competition.
Morris said the marching band has won competitions or received high ratings as a whole band and individually. He said former band member and CN citizen Bailey Stone won awards for his role as drum major, and CN citizen Athena Goingsnake was accepted into the Eastern District Band Director’s Association honor band in 2018.
“The first part of the school from all of September, all of October, through the first or second week of November that’s all marching season. That’s when we do all of our contests. Then we start our individual stuff, trying out for honor bands,” he said.
He said this past year has been the best yet for students being involved in solo and ensemble competitions. “I had 15 kids that made superior ratings at OSSAA, solo and ensemble, so that qualified them to go to state in Stillwater. And out of those 15, 12 came back with superior ratings and three came back with excellent ratings. They all made it to state.”
A superior rating is the highest rating in competition. An excellent rating is the second highest.
He said he tells his students the more they do well and obtain the highest ratings, people will expect a superior band and to keep that in mind when they play.
“People keep asking me ‘why do you do this,’ and well, its fun, but it’s fun because I’ve got kids that are willing to work and put forth the effort,” Morris said.
He said he doesn’t know how long he will be a band a director and that he’ll eventually slow down.
“I’m not getting any younger. I just want to be able to contribute and just keep what’s going here at Sequoyah, keep it going. I don’t want to just walk out the door and say ‘hey, I’m done.’ We’ve got too much going. We’ve built it up, and I hate to see if I walked out the door that it just wasn’t there anymore.”