The legacy of Madison’s band director, Mr. Hackbarth

The legacy of Madisons band director, Mr. Hackbarth

Simon Wong, Opinion Editor

Four state championships. Three Commonwealth Cups. A Bands of America Regional Championship. A Bands of America Grand Nationals Semi-Finalist. A John Philip Sousa Foundation Sudler Flag of Honor recipient. Scores of Superior ratings at state assessments. These awards may not mean much to the average bystander, but for anyone who knows anything about high school performing arts, these achievements are the mark of a high school band that gives new meaning to the phrase “the best of the best.” And if you want to know which band this is, just look at the front of this newspaper and you’ll find the answer. The JMHS Band isn’t the “Pride of Vienna” just because it’s the only high school in Vienna-it’s lived up to its title. And who is at the forefront of this decorated ensemble? A man by the name of Michael Hackbarth.

Mr. Hackbarth’s first year as the band director at Madison was 2001. Before Madison he worked at two high schools in Florida. While serving as the band director at Lakeland HS in Lakeland, FL, the band director at Madison before Mr. Hackbarth encouraged him to apply for the position of Madison’s band director. The band director of Mr. Hackbarth’s alma mater Florida State University, Dr. Jim Croft, also encouraged him to apply. Mr. Hackbarth’s first goal for the Madison band was “to continue the quality, tradition of excellence, and reputation of the Concert Band program at JMHS.” His second goal was “to move the marching program to a point of relevance.” To the end of accomplishing the second goal, Mr. Hackbarth hired renowned hornist and arranger Kent Baker in 2003 as marching band coordinator for the Marching Ensemble, and the two have maintained a close friendship for the past two decades.

Under Mr. Hackbarth’s direction, from 2001-2016, the JMHS “Pride of Vienna” Marching Ensemble participated in several local and regional competitions, but nothing that was solely against bands from every part of Virginia. (They had participated in competitions with local bands in FCPS and neighboring counties, but not from other sections of Virginia, like near Richmond.) Then, in 2017, a new state wide marching band organization was created-the Virginia Marching Band Cooperative, or VMBC. In its first season, VMBC held a few regional events, but Madison did not attend any of them, instead opting to go to other competitions. But in VMBC’s second season (2018) they greatly expanded their competition list, which included for the first time a state championship, a stage for the best bands in Virginia to showcase their talent and determine once and for all which high school had the best band in the entire state. Mr. Hackbarth took advantage of the opportunity, and the following three competition years (2019, 2021 and 2022) as well as the first year, the marching band was Group 5A State Champions. The marching band has also been to many Bands of America competitions, even being a Grand Nationals Semi-Finalist in 2019. (Bands of America is a nationwide high school marching band organization.) Needless to say, Mr. Hackbarth has gone above and beyond in accomplishing his goal of moving the marching band into the spotlight.

In terms of the concert band, they already had a very good reputation when Mr. Hackbarth arrived, and he continued that during the past two decades of his tenure. The JMHS Band has received two Sudler Flags of Honor and a National Band Association Blue Ribbon Award, the two highest awards for band programs). Madison is one of only five schools to ever receive the Sudler Flag twice, and one of 65 total schools that have received it. The Wind Symphony, Madison’s highest level concert band, has never received anything other than a Superior-the highest rating out of 5-at any judged event they’ve been to since Mr. Hackbarth’s arrival.

Mr. Hackbarth’s prestige has been recognized many times here at Madison, as well as state and nation wide. In 2011, he was Madison’s Triple-I Teacher of the Year. In both 2003 and 2005, he was awarded the National Band Association’s “Citation of Excellence”, and in 2003 he was the Virginia representative for the School Band and Orchestra Magazine’s “50 Directors Who Make a Difference”.

After all the accolades the “Pride of Vienna” has received, one might think that there is nothing left to be done for the band director of such a successful organization. But Mr. Hackbarth’s work is far from over. He reflects that “As you become successful and reach goals, maintaining becomes the focus – which is often harder than reaching your original goals.” It will be hard work to maintain the excellence that has been produced over these past 21 years of Mr. Hackbarth’s time at Madison, but there is no doubt that he is more than ready for the challenge.