Longtime OHS band director stepping down

After teaching thousands of students during his 30-year career with Ector County Independent School District, Odessa High School Director of Bands Billy Harden is stepping down from the podium.

Harden made the announcement to his band earlier this month. It was a tough decision for him and he said he will miss the students, but he is excited about having more time, not having the long hours, not having to ride school buses and not having to be in charge of summer band.

Starting out with Ed Handley at OHS as an assistant, Harden moved to Bowie Middle School to be band director and then back to OHS as the director of bands. He has been at OHS since 1998. His last contract day is June 18.

When he talks about the students, he wells up.

“I have met so many amazing students, some of whom I am very close to to this day,” Harden said.

He added that the idea of the other incredible students he’s going to miss by leaving is difficult to swallow.

A bassoon player for 42 years, Harden earned a music education degree from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene. The Corpus Christi native intended to stay for two years and the transfer to a larger school to study medicine.

But music was all he ever loved. Instead of medical school, he moved on to earn a degree in bassoon performance from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati.

“My goal was like every young person in music. They want to be a symphony performer, or a college teacher, so my goal was to teach for three to five years and try to get that,” Harden said.

“I loved school. I was a good student. I worked really hard. I loved math and science and tolerated the other stuff, but I made great grades — I was very intent on making good grades … but music is what I really loved doing.”

Harden’s plan had been to stay in Odessa and get teaching experience for three to five years, but he stayed 30 years.

“Ed Handley hired me. … He pushed hard to get me as the assistant, so I owe him my whole career,” Harden said.

He added that he’s had some amazing mentor teachers and bosses like J.R. McEntyre, Charles Nail and Randy Talley.

Harden’s future plans are to stay in Odessa for two or three years to see how some of his students progress through band, work for a fundraising company with a friend and a travel company run by a former student and his wife. He also will continue playing with the Midland-Odessa Symphony.

Harden said he also would work with WorldStrides Educational Student Travel and the Honors Performance Series at Carnegie Hall and the Sydney Opera House.

He also hopes to do some consulting for other regional band directors.

Harden’s students are sad to see him go.

Austin Martin, a senior percussionist, said he came to OHS at the beginning of the second semester last year from Permian. When he first arrived, Martin said he was “extremely depressed,” but the kindness the band showed him changed his mind about band.

Now he would like to be a band director and plans to attend Odessa College or the University of Texas of the Permian Basin.

Ninth-grade tuba player Nathaniel Hernandez said Harden’s retirement is kind of disappointing.

“I was looking forward to four years of honor band and learning from someone like Mr. Harden, but I just feel like at least I got the last year. I feel very lucky and fortunate to be able to at least be part of 30 years of teaching,” Hernandez said.

Angelo Campos, a sophomore clarinet player, shared Hernandez’s feelings.

“It kind of stings because next year I’m not going to have somebody yelling at me to do something,” Campos said.

He liked having Harden pushing the band to learn their music and play the right notes. Campos agreed that he’ll still have someone yelling at him.

“It will just be different because it will be somebody new; not him,” Campos said.