Pride of the Mountains gets new marching band director

The new Pride of the Mountains Marching band director is David Starnes, the current director of bands at Kennesaw Mountain High School in Kennesaw, Ga. Starnes replaces the award-winning Bob Buckner, who will be retiring July 1 after 20 years as director of athletic bands at WCU. 

“We are extremely excited about our bright future with David Starnes,” said Matt Henley, assistant marching band director. “His successes as a band director are astonishing, and his fresh and energetic view on marching bands will take our program to even greater places. He is a consummate music educator, and our current bandsmen will certainly learn a great deal from him.”

The selection of Starnes ended a national search to replace a man who has developed WCU’s marching band program into a significant attraction for the campus of Western. Under Buckner’s leadership, membership in the marching musical ensemble now known as the Pride of the Mountains has exploded from fewer than 90 to more than 400. During his tenure, the band received the 2009 John Philip Sousa Foundation’s prestigious Sudler Trophy, the nation’s highest and most-coveted award for college and university marching bands. Capping Buckner’s career was a New Year’s Day appearance in the Tournament of Roses Parade by the Pride of the Mountains, which was named “best band” in the parade in an online poll conducted by KTLA-TV of Los Angeles.

Many members of the Pride of the Mountains are excited about the selection of Starnes.

“I can tell he is so excited to get working on the show for the fall,” said Kaitlin Saulter, who will be a senior band member in the fall. “He seems absolutely dedicated to the marching band and wants to jump right on board with how this program is run.”

Starnes joined the music faculty at Kennesaw Mountain High School when the school opened in August 2000. Under his guidance, the school’s band program has grown from 85 students to a membership of 250.

Like Western, the Kennesaw Mountain program received recognition from the Sousa Foundation and was awarded the Sudler Shield of Excellence for outstanding achievement in high school marching bands in 2003. And the Kennesaw band participated in the 79th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City in 2005.

Starnes said he is a long-time admirer of Buckner and the Pride of the Mountains, and is excited about the opportunity to be the band’s next director.

“Western Carolina’s marching band has a reputation in the college band world as being one of the most entertaining as well as innovative programs, while still maintaining an identity that makes it truly ‘WCU.’ It is my goal to continue to offer the same flavor and excitement that allowed this band to be named the fan favorite at the Tournament of Roses Parade in January 2011,” said Starnes.

Starnes is sought out nationally and internationally as an adjudicator, clinician, guest conductor and creative designer. He served as an adjudicator for many state, national and international organizations including Bands of America, where he is a member of the Advisory Board; Winter Guard International; and Drum Corps International, where he served as an adjudicator and percussion caption head from 1998 until 2002.

Starnes is from Chattanooga, Tenn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville in 1988, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in music education.

“I expect everything to go along with the season just as if there was not a change in directors,” said Saulter. “Yes, it is a drastic change and this will be a new experience for the veterans, but that shouldn’t slow us down as a band to create one of the best halftime shows Western Carolina has ever seen.”