If you have any plans to walk down a Munford High School hallway with Barry Trobaugh, be prepared to walk really, really fast.
On the way to the library from the main office on a recent Monday morning, he left a trailing reporter in his dust.
“He’s always on a mission,” John Lombardo, a former Munford band member who later served as one of his assistants, said with a laugh. “He hates to waste time.”
Trobaugh, who announced his retirement last week, wasted very little time during his 27-year run as the director of one of the most successful high school bands in the country.
Over the last decade alone, the Munford Marching Band has won a U.S. Bands National Championship (2011) and performed at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (2015) in New York City and the Tournament of Roses Parade (2019) in Pasadena, Calif. Qualifying for the those two parades is very difficult. Many bands have been trying for years to get there but have not made it.
“It’s a very short list,” Trobaugh said when asked how many other schools in the country have pulled off that impressive trifecta.
When asked about Trobugh, the first word out of the mouth of Dr. Courtney Fee, Munford’s principal, was “legend.”
“When you lose the man who’s been at the helm of it all, those are big shoes to fill,” Fee said.
Trobaugh, 64, became Munford’s band director in August of 1994 after serving in that role at high schools in Arkansas and Kentucky. When he started, the band’s budget was less than $25,000 and it was sometimes difficult to find money to send the band to play at road football games.
Over the past decade, in years that did not include a trip to New York or California, the annual budget hovered around $200,000. Approximately $960,000 was raised for the trip to Pasadena alone.
While Trobaugh is clearly proud of the hundreds of trophies that reside in the Munford band room, the relationships forged with his students are what he cherishes.
“I’m proud of a million things,” Trobaugh said. “The room is full of hardware. People will walk in there and say, ‘Look at all the trophies.’ I’ll say, ‘The trophies aren’t here. My trophies are really the students.’”
In addition to the national title and the two cross-country trips, his bands, including marching, concert and jazz, received 26 straight superior ratings at the WTSBOA Marching Festival, four state titles, three Southern State titles and 20 grand championships at Bandmasters, Tennessee’s largest marching competition. The band also performed at the 1995 inauguration of Gov. Don Sundquist.
Trobaugh has been named Tipton County’s teacher of the year and Munford’s teacher of the year twice and was the recipient of the Country Music Association Music Teacher of Excellence award.
He’s not very comfortable talking about his own accomplishments and pushes back against the idea that he is solely responsible for all of this success.
“One thing I want to strike home is that the success of our program has simply been the team. It has not been me, though I’ve had a part, but I’ve just had a part,” Trobaugh said. “It’s been our team of instructors, an amazing community and incredible young adults. They are the hardest working people I know … If I take credit for anything, I’ll take credit for being able to develop synergy where other really talented people, throughout the community and within the school, did what they did so well and we just fed off of each other’s positives. It’s that simple.”
If you ever watched Trobaugh work with his band, you can’t help but notice his intensity. It can be jarring if you were expecting gentle prodding. His style is closer to a demanding coach or intense drill instructor than a laid-back music teacher.
“He had his reputation. From the outside he might have looked kind of harsh, like he was asking too much,” Lombardo said. “Really, he just had high expectations whether you were a beginning musician or the most experienced senior … We could complain but if somebody else did we didn’t like it. He knew he had to carry the burden of being the non-fun guy, kind of dictator, for lack of a better word, but he was okay with that because he saw the results in kids.”
Lombardo, a trumpet player who became drum major his senior year, earned a band scholarship to Notre Dame. Countless other former band members went on to find success at elite colleges, in the military and various other professions.
When Munford announced this week that 14 students had scored 30 or better on the ACT, seven of them were band members.
“He clearly has a style that kids buy into,” Fee said. “His style has created the attitude of doing whatever it takes to perform at the highest level.”
Over the years a few parents have come to Fee to complain about Trobaugh’s style. She typically tells the parent the best course of action is to help “lift up the kid to meet his expectations” to teach them how to handle the adversity that will be coming after high school.
A former band member recently messaged Fee and told her Trobaugh was the reason he shows up to work 30 minutes early every day. She said discipline and respect are the tenets of Trobaugh’s teaching philosophy.
“I always tell parents if their child is successful through four years in the band they can be successful at anything,” Fee said. “That winning feeling is so powerful for a young person. Once they see what it feels like to win, they tend to like that feeling. It gives them confidence.”
The success of the band does not start in the ninth grade. Gary Fite, the band director at Munford Middle School and a close friend of Trobaugh, begins teaching band members the Munford way.
“I think that even students who join our program at the sixth-grade level understand what our lineage is,” Trobaugh said. “We introduce ourselves to those 11-year-olds that very first day and tell them that this is the very first day in preparing you to wear the red and white uniform. They have three years of development before they even get here.”
The term “band kid” is used a lot to describe Munford’s band members. At some schools being in the band is associated with being a little nerdy or not fitting in with the “popular kids.”
Trobaugh is aware of that stereotype, but it’s a little different at Munford.
“We have a very diverse student body,” Trobaugh said. “I have students that, internally, don’t fit in or feel comfortable in certain groups or areas, but yet when all of those different factions of the student body, band kids, come into the band room, you can watch their faces. There’s a sense of calm. I tell them it’s a sanctuary. We can talk bad to each other but we don’t let somebody else come in and talk bad … There’s no doubt there’s a success component, too. We’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of success and everybody wants to be a winner. I think the labeling as a band kid is a very positive label … It’s a sense of belonging, a good gang.”
“I think at heart he himself was a band nerd and he had high expectations of himself,” Lombardo said. “He expected his students to have those same expectations … He just understood what it took to have teenagers come together and have this big, exciting successful thing called a band. Some people may not have liked his leadership style, but I don’t think anyone would be worse off spending four years in his program.”
Fee has a lot of fond memories related to the band. She said the best one was the trip to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“They weren’t intimidated by anything,” Fee said. “There wasn’t anything about marching on national TV that got them off their game. To watch our kids have that kind of confidence in the middle of New York City, that’s where you tip your hat to him. That was a very emotional moment.”
Trobaugh, who lives in Drummonds, is retiring but he’s not going anywhere. He has plans to be involved in music education by consulting and possibly judging band competitions. Every day before school he stands by the parking lot and greets students as they walk toward the building. He said he’ll miss that and plans to be available to help the program however he can.
“This place has been good to me and for me. I’ll forever reciprocate that.”