Consistency is not a minor key.
That’s especially true when it comes to the Land O’ Lakes High School Band.
In the six years that band director Johnathon Mulder has been leading the Gators, he has demonstrated consistency in leadership, direction, experience and, of course, the love of music.
“We’ve tried to put a big emphasis on recruiting — which is not really like it is in the sports world,” said Mulder, a former trumpet player from the Herd of Thunder, the University of South Florida’s marching band. “It’s more of just trying to get to the middle school and giving them the information about us and joining us when they come to this high school.
“But until I got here — with the last five to six band directors — there was constant turnover, where it was a new band director every two to three years. So consistency, that was a big thing for me when I came in — not to leave after two years.
“Because with any band program in the state, or even the country, ones that are large in size and very good, you see that they have a director or directors that have been there for an extended time.”
Mulder’s stay, and the consistency in leadership, have worked. Land O’ Lakes now has the second largest public high school band in Pasco County, only behind Mitchell High.
When Mulder took over, the band had about 60 members. Now, the Gators’ band has 124 members, which is a school record.
“When I came here, there was a lot of negativity within the band,” Mulder said. “A lot of students would make jokes about themselves — self-deprecating humor — but we wanted to stop that.
“The big thing with my philosophy in teaching is we will do well, we will go on stage and put on a great performance and a high-quality production. What’s important is that this class, like our dance and art and chorus classes and theater, is usually the safe space for those students. We wanted to create an atmosphere that this is a family, that we’re all working for each other, with each other and pushing ourselves and holding ourselves to high standards.”
That family atmosphere, and the “recruiting,” seems to be working, given the band’s size. Mulder and the band’s captains will visit the middle school band, like the one at Pine View Middle, which has close to 300 members. But the band also will have a Middle School Night.
For that, the Gators will go to a Pine View game and play and perform with those middle school band members. They’ll also invite them to a Gators’ football game, so they can watch the band perform during the game and its halftime performance.
“We do have a middle school band night, so we were there and played their tunes, our tunes — really jammed out with them and performed on the field with them,” senior trombone section leader Riley Palmer said. “And they came to our game and, obviously, I didn’t really pay attention to them in the stands because I was playing, but I think they liked it.
“I know, for me, I loved it because, just like them, I was in the stands on middle school night and it got me really excited to join when I came to Land O’ Lakes.”
Middle school night has been quite the recruiting tool, according to one of the band’s recruiters.
“We’re really involved with middle school night and just show them this is the high school band experience and they really love it,” said Kenzie Ringo, a senior, who plays the clarinet and is the band’s co-captain. “In the past, you’d get a really big freshman class and then they’d quit, but now everyone sticks around and you have seniors that have been in band all four years.
“We’re a lot like a family — we’re really close and love being around each other, and so that helps people stick around and that’s just very cool to see.”
As senior players who have enjoyed four full years under Mulder’s guidance, they believe his tenure has made all the difference.
“What makes our band stand out from other bands is that we’re not as serious as other bands,” Palmer said. “I’d like us to be a little more serious, but I also just like how chill we are, and that’s what he’s brought to this band.”
“He’s, obviously, our band director, but he’s the leader, right?” Ringo added. “He’s just a very easy person to talk to and down to earth with us. He doesn’t mind talking to any of us outside of band time. He’s just someone that you want to be friends with, even after you move on from high school.”
And after six years, the Gators band is finally on the same page of sheet music.
It’s important to have consistency in leadership and expectations, Mulder said.
“When you establish those expectations and have them year after year, you build a culture of success, and I think that absolutely shows now after six years.”
Published January 11, 2023