Dalton High alum makes history as school's first female band director

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In seventh grade, Janna Pye knew she wanted to be a band director, because "band changed my life, and saying those words -- 'band changed my life' -- doesn't even encompass everything it did for me," said Dalton High School's new band director. "It opened so many doors for me, and I thought 'If I could just do that for even one student, it'll be wonderful.'" 

Janna Pye, Dalton High School's new band director, is not only a lifelong Daltonian and alumna of the high school, but the first female band director in the high school's history.

In fact, the entire Dalton Middle School and Dalton High School band operation leadership this year — Daisy Cardona-Kay and Sara Webb, Dalton Middle School directors who also assist with the high school band; Amber Dean, who choreographs, instructs and coordinates the Colorguard and Winterguard programs; and Pye — is comprised of females, Pye said.

"We were talking, and we're not sure if there are any" other situations like that in other school systems in Georgia, she said.

When Pye was young and attending various band camps and clinics, "I don't think I even saw a female band director until I was out of college, but now, for our kids here, this is just normal," she said. "This has traditionally been a male-dominated (profession) because of the hours; it's hard to raise a family and be a high school band director."

Pye actually stepped away from band duties earlier in her career due to family responsibilities.

When her son, Sean, now 19 and a student at Kennesaw State University, was young, "I'd put him to bed Wednesday night and wouldn't see him again until Sunday" during marching band season, she said. She returned to band part time, however, starting the band program at Christian Heritage School, and "that was perfect for me at that time."

She then moved on to Dalton Middle School, which was very different than when she was in school, she said. As a student, it was a junior high, and it was located on what is now the City Park School campus.

Now, she's taken over at Dalton High, and "I feel a big sense of responsibility to continue" the excellence that preceded her tenure, she said.

"It's the tradition and heritage of Dalton High School that make it a special place."

"Administrations — an administration can destroy a band program in a day if it wants to — and the community have backed it, more than in a lot of places, and alumni are very passionate," she said. "Dalton High has always had successful band directors who know how to make a successful band, but they were also personable, and you'd be hard-pressed to find an alum who didn't like their band director."

"There's a resilience and a grit in the community of Dalton that I see in these kids," she added. "The thing I hear most from them is 'What can I do to help?'"

Based on her background, her knowledge and her experience, Pye "was the perfect choice to fill this position," said Stephanie Hungerpiller, Dalton High's principal. "We are so excited that (she) is our new band director and our first female band director."

Pye has a special perspective as band director. Not only was she a member of Dalton High's band, but her daughter, Lauren — Pye and her husband, Sean, a fellow Daltonian, have been married for 23 years — is a sophomore and current band member.

Pye doesn't view her job as work, because "I get to play every day," she said with a laugh. And spending time around youth "keeps me young and energizes me."

In addition to the marching band, three concert bands and a band class for students looking to learn a second instrument, Pye is restarting the jazz band this year, which had been dormant.

"It's part of our responsibility to give (students) a total musical education," she said. "There are a lot of really influential American jazz composers they can learn about, and jazz is just really fun."

"High school band students can take more responsibility" than those in middle school with their learning and preparation, Pye said. "It's more 'You make you a better musician with my guidance' than 'I make you a better musician.'"

Pye didn't grow up listening to or playing music. It wasn't until the sixth grade — when all her friends joined band, and she followed them — that she jumped in and realized "I just loved it from day one."

"I like the challenge — I've always enjoyed puzzles — of which note to play when and for how long," she said. "Rhythm has always been easy for me, and I was very shy, but music was a way I could be part of something and feel I contributed without having to talk to a lot of people."

In seventh grade, she knew she wanted to be a band director, because "band changed my life, and saying those words — 'band changed my life' — doesn't even encompass everything it did for me," she said. "It opened so many doors for me, and I thought 'If I could just do that for even one student, it'll be wonderful.'"

When Hungerpiller and Pye discussed the band director role earlier this year, Pye "clearly communicated her passion for the program as well as her vision for the future of our band," said Hungerpiller. Pye "demonstrates daily for our students her love of music, a strong work ethic, and commitment to pushing our students to be the best that they can be."

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