OGHS band director named; Laird: ‘Bittersweet’

By BUSTER WOLFE,

A former Oak Grove High School band member will become the new director of the Warrior Bands after Sharon Laird retires at the end of the school year.

Jerry Pickering, first-year director of the Northwest Rankin High School band, will take over the OGHS band. Laird announced her retirement earlier this year.

“I am looking forward to working at Oak Grove next year,” Pickering said Monday. “I was a member of the Oak Grove band from 1991-1995 so the opportunity to teach here will be like coming home. I still have many friends and family in Hattiesburg and I am really glad to be closer to them. Another factor that I considered when applying for the position was the Oak Grove Band’s strong tradition as one of the premier band programs in the state and region.”

Pickering said the Oak Grove band program already has the components for success.

“I am looking forward to working with the students, other directors, and booster club to continue the tradition of quality and distinction that the Oak Grove Band is known for,” he said.

Pickering served as the band director at Northwest Rankin Middle School for seven years, one year as assistant band director at Philadelphia High School and five years as assistant band director at Pearl River Central High School.

Laird said leaving Oak Grove’s band program at the end of the school year “is absolutely bittersweet.”

“I love it,” she said. “I love what I do, I love the students, I love Oak Grove; Lamar County is a wonderful place to be a band director. However, I joined band when I was 9 years old as a fifth-grader. So, I have been doing band since I was 9 years old at Sumrall High School. We joined the band as a seventh-grader. I have been going to band camp every summer since I was 11 years old, 39 years of band camp in high school, college and career. There are some things I will not miss – school bus rides.”

Laird insists that she is not retiring because she is burned out.

“I never got to the point in my career when I was tired of any of it,” she said. “I hear band directors say, ‘Oh, I love my job, but it’s too hot at band camp.’ Or ‘I’m too old to do this.’ I have never had those feelings. I don’t feel like I’m too old; I don’t think I’m tired of it. But there are so many opportunities and again after 29 years in education, I want to explore some of the other opportunities that are out there.”

Laird said she is not leaving music or education.

“I am still going to stay involved in our art and in education,” she said. “I am a member of several professional organizations and I am still an officer in some of those organizations. So, I will definitely continue to fulfill my responsibilities in those roles.”

Laird is president of the Mississippi Bandmasters Association and Pickering is second vice president.

“In June, I will become past president, and there are still roles and responsibilities to fulfill there,” she said. “So, I will continue to do that. I hope to mentor young directors, and I love listening to bands, making comments and trying to help people. I still love to learn about music and band, so I hope to have that in my future.”

Laird said she might also return to playing piano in churches, which she did for more than 20 years. She also wants to play her trumpet some more.

“I do not have any plans; I have nothing lined up,” she said. “My husband (Mark, West Jones High School band director) is still teaching. He is going to retire soon, but he is still teaching. We do see travel in our future; we love to travel. We love, love, love saltwater fishing. The one thing that I do look forward to is that competition season for marching band is right in the middle of the best redfish fishing for us. So, it will be nice to have a few days in October and November for redfishing.”

However, retirement will be something new for Laird, especially after the day-to-day routine that she has enjoyed.

“When I stop and really think about it, it’s still hard to wrap my head around the fact that I am not going to be doing it every day because it has literally been my life for 32 years,” she said. “That’s all I’ve done for 32 years. That’s life and it’s never been a job to me. It’s certainly hard work, but the saying is true: ‘If you do something you love, you never work a day in your life.’ This has never been a chore.

“I’ve never thought that this was a difficult profession. I love what I do. I love seeing a student when the lightbulb goes off and they have really accomplished something they have been working hard. It is just so much fun to see them grin and smile.”

On March 24, Laird will direct the OGHS Wind Ensemble at the Bands of America’s Louisiana Concert Band Invitational in Lafayette. Oak Grove High School will host the Mississippi High School Activities Association’s concert evaluations April 16-19.