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Stepping into big shoes… Valentine named new band director at EHS replacing Elliott

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR STAFF
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com
Many knew the day was coming when beloved Elizabethton High School band director Perry Elliott would lay down his baton and step into his future outside of the band program.

When Elliott announced that this was his last year at the helm of the ultra-successful ‘Betsy Band, the Elizabethton High School and City Board of Education knew it was imperative to make sure that the new director wouldn’t miss a beat when taking over the program.

Conducting a regional search, eight applicants were accepted from a five-state area. Out of those eight, the list was whittled down to three who went through an extensive interview process before the search committee settled on the one person whom they felt was the right man, at the right time for the job.

On Tuesday afternoon, Jonathan Valentine was introduced first to the band students and then to area media as the new band director at the school.

According to a press release from the Elizabethton City of Schools public relations coordinator Nicole Honeycutt, Valentine brings a strong background in music education and extensive experience with the marching band.

Prior to his acceptance at Elizabethton, he was an Assistant Director at James F. Brynes, TL Hanna, and the Director of Bands at Berry Shoals Intermediate school and a middle school Assistant Director at James F. Byrnes High School in South Carolina.

Under his leadership, the Berry Shoals 5th and 6th Grade Bands were a consistent winner of the Outstanding Performance Award, a featured performer at the 2014 SCMEA Conference, and a 2019 Division III, high scorer at the National Adjudicator Invitational, held in the Atlanta Symphony Hall.

The James F. Byrnes High School rose to become a Bands of America National Semi-finalist and won two 5A State Championships during his tenure.

Valentine is a Co-Brass Caption Head of the World Class Drum Corps International Participant Music City Drum and Bugle Corps rising among the ranks of the top drum corps in the world.

He has been a member of the MCDC staff since 2015. Valentine is an active clinician for middle school and high school groups in the marching and concert band mediums.

Valentine holds an undergraduate degree from the University of South Carolina School of Music. He studied Music Education and Saxophone Performance with Clifford Leaman and a Master of Music Education degree from the University of Florida School of Music.

He grew up in Bristol, Tenn., attending Sullivan East High School. He is very excited to be moving back home, where he will be closer to family, and joined by his fiancée Shawnna Kelley. They will be married in November, right after the state championships.

Valentine is looking forward to taking over the band from Elliott who has led the band for over 30 years at Elizabethton High School.

“Of course, when Perry retired, I found out about it pretty quick as I have a lot of friends here in the Elizabethton system and so I just started wrapping my mind around what it would be like to be the head band director here,” Valentine shared while meeting with the media.

“I started to put out some feelers about the school system and finding out as much as I could about everything and one of the things that was overwhelming was the community loved the band here — just a huge Friday night experience.

“Of course, knowing the band from being in this area helped because I knew about the band when I was in high school but finding out an eighth of the student population or more is in the band is a testament to just how great things are here,” Valentine continued.

“The more I started to hear about the community support, the size of the band, the kind of kids that are here — the more I just said it was a no-brainer.”

Standing beside a board that hangs on the wall just behind the current Elizabethton bandstand at Citizens Bank Stadium, it wasn’t hard to see how successful Elliott and his students have been in the past 10 years having won Band Championships in 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2016 while achieving runner-up status in other years that they didn’t bring home the title.

Valentine pointed at the remaining blanks left on the board and said that the band will be working hard to build off the foundation that Elliott has laid in his time at the school and finish off the remaining blanks in the years to come.

“There is absolutely no ‘Betsy Band in this century without Perry Elliott,” Valentine commented. “Coming off his high mountain of success there are definitely some big shoes to fill.

“I went to South Carolina and stayed in South Carolina for a long time to work with really awesome band programs, some of the biggest band programs in South Carolina so I could prepare myself for this.

“I was hired in a position at James F. Brynes as an assistant and I watched someone take over after a 30-year legend winning 10 state championships and I spent a year in Anderson, South Carolina and we replaced a guy that had been there 30 years so I have been there and seen that and done that and at the end of the day you get to build off the legacy that they put in place and to be able to follow Mr. Elliott is definitely an honor and a lot of this is due to him.

“So the fact that this band program has been so successful over the last three decades is due to his hard work so anything that we accomplish at this point will be a next step for the band program to go from that.”

Elizabethton High School Principal Dr. Jon Minton said it was important to find someone that could come in and continue the rich tradition that the ‘Betsy Band has achieved under Elliott’s leadership.

“Mr. Elliott’s 30-year experience and his involvement and commitment to the students, parents of students in the band, and to our community, the ‘Betsy Band would not be where it is without his involvement and commitment and his vision 30 years ago,” said Dr. Minton.

“One of the things that Mr. Elliott and I talked about was when he first became the band director here was his vision and how he saw where the band was and how important it was to maintain tradition but also to grow.

“One of the most impressive things about Mr. Valentine is that he has the same vision as he has a healthy respect for where we are but he also sees a vision for the future and is willing to say, ‘Hey we are going to step out and recognize who we are and where we are but we are also going to grow and make kids better,’ and that’s what we are all about.”