The Nebraska State Bandmasters Association presented their highest honor, the Donald A. Lentz Outstanding Bandmaster Award, at their annual awards banquet on March 1st. The award was presented to Mark Jones from Fort Calhoun High School in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska. This award is named after Donald A. Lentz of Lincoln, who was Director of Bands at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln from 1937-1974 and remained active as a clinician and adjudicator throughout the state until his death.
Mark has taught instrumental music at Fort Calhoun for 36 years. The band program has proven itself to be outstanding in all areas: concert band, marching band, jazz band, solos and small ensembles, honor band participation, and lengthy, frequent band trips. A listing of awards and honors would be almost endless. The concert band has earned 27 superior ratings at Districts in the last 35 years, and the jazz band 17 of the last 30. Most of those superiors are with straight “1’s” from the judges. At the NSBA contest, the marching band has earned an incredible 16 superior ratings in the last 18 years. The band has been named Grand Champion of their class six times at the Links Marching Festival. The band has earned dozens of other impressive ratings and trophies at other contests such at Septemberfest, River City Roundup, Malcolm Invitational, and more.
The NSBA received many letters of support from students, band parents, and colleagues.
A former student wrote, “While many things have changed about the Fort Calhoun Schools, and many things have changed about the teaching of young people, one thing that has most definitely not changed is Mr. Jones’ pursuit of excellence, his tireless work ethic, and his infinite desire to develop and inspire young musicians.
“To this day, Mr. Jones continues to schedule jazz band rehearsals nearly every morning of the week and individual and ensemble lessons into the evening hours. When I was a student of his, the answer was always “yes” when it came to seeking extra individual help. Jones pushed me to never accept anything less than my personal best, and to this day when I am sometimes tempted - as a performer or as an instructor - to feel that an inferior product might be ‘good enough,’ I often think of Mark Jones and I push on to make things even better.
A band parent said, “To say that Mr. Jones is a dedicated educator would be a great understatement. He spends countless hours in his role as a bandmaster - way above and beyond what is expected.”
“All three of our children learned about much more than music under the tutelage of Mr. Jones. He not only talks about dedication and hard work - he lives it. He sets the example of walking the walk, not just talking the talk. He teaches the students to set goals and encourages them to achieve them.” Another band parent said, “Mark Jones was the most demanding teacher my two sons ever had. He demanded their attention, their respect, and their best work at all times. Both of my sons were state-rated wrestlers, both played football and both were outstanding students, yet both will admit today that what they miss most about high school is performing with the band.
A Band Parent Organization President said, “Every year, I’m astounded as to how he brings our smaller group to achieve such a big, quality sound that is attempted by much larger bands! In competitions with Class A and AA bands, we have received many comments from audiences, parents, and other band members from different schools as to how well we perform and sound! This has been noted by all the awards surrounding the music room, and achievements within competitions from the 35+ years Mark has been our band director. He has achieved this without assistant directors, choreographers, or even travel agents to help with our Orlando and Washington D.C. trips! He organizes it all.
The principal nominator for Mr. Jones was Jeff James, Director of Bands at Grace University. Mr. James wrote, “Mr. Jones’ dedication to the total band program is incredible. There is no facet that has not received his relentless effort. His program is stellar in every area: concert band, jazz band, ensembles, marching band, concerts at home and elsewhere, honor band participation, and out-of-state trips taken (including many awards) and more.
“The Fort Calhoun bands have never had it easy. I’ve had the opportunity to see them perform many times over the last 36 years. I’ve never seen them play easy music. The band has usually been more than talented enough to earn top ratings simply by playing easy or moderately difficult music. Rather than taking the easier route, Mr. Jones always challenges his bands to the maximum, even though it has sometimes cost them a superior rating when the band did not quite get it all mastered in time. His desire to help his students learn and grow has truly been more important to him than ratings.
Nebraska State Bandmasters Association