Scott Corley has directed Watertown High School’s band and choir for the past 11 years, and it’s his background as a military veteran that inspires excellence in his students and connects the program with the community.
Corley, 54, started with a fledgling program and has since worked to increase both the band and choir in numbers and honors. The marching band wrapped up possibly its most successful season with a strong showing Nov. 2 at the state competition at Stewarts Creek High School.
The band performed at the Blue Devil Invitational Marching Band Competition on Oct. 5 at Lebanon High School where it won first place (band) and the small-division sweepstakes award. The band also performed at the Marching Yellow Jackets Invitational on Sept. 28 in Hartsville, where it won first place for band, percussion, field commander and visual ensemble in its division.
The band also performed at the Marching Yellow Jackets Invitational on Sept. 28 in Hartsville, where it won first-place band, first-place percussion, first-place field commander and first-place visual ensemble in Class E.
But long before Corley built an award-winning band and choir program at Watertown High School, he was a struggling computer science major in the early 1980s at Western Kentucky University.
“I loved music,” Corley said. “I wanted to be a band director all along. I don’t know why I thought I could do that and major in computer science at the same time. So, I switched to music my third year. I did really well with the music stuff, but I was still in the same boat, and I realized I’ve got to do something. If you are doing music, it takes a long time, and it would have been another seven years before I graduated. It just wasn’t going to work.”
Corley went back and forth from community college to Western Kentucky before he realized college and a career as a band director would have to be put on hold. So, he enlisted in the Air Force, and he served as a cryptologic linguist from 1985-2005. He was honorably discharged as a tech sergeant with full retirement benefits.
“The plan was to do four years and go back to school,” Corley said. “By the time it was time to re-enlist or not, I’m in Greece on Crete — it’s an island. I’m loving life as a 23-year-old boy … So this is where I’m at, and I’m loving my job. I just got promoted.”
Corley grew up in Greenville, Ky., a town he described as a little bigger than Watertown with two stop lights. His father served in the Navy, but that was before he got married and had children. Corley also had two uncles who served in the Air Force.
Corley said he really took to his job in the Air Force, which wasn’t all that much different from the skills he uses as a band director.
“Language skills and music are very similar,” Corley said. “I went to school for three years before I joined the Air Force — not a good student, a very bad student, and I had to do something with my life. I was a music student then. I go to join the military, and I find out I’m going to do this job, and I don’t know what it is.
“I get out there and find that we are doing the same exercises we were doing when I was a music student — listen and repeat what you heard. You are learning to read a foreign language. When you learn to read notes, it’s a foreign language. Everything we do — when you hear something, you write down what you heard in that language. You’ve got to be able to listen to do both … They have nothing to do with each other, but the skills are similar.”
Starting in Watertown
In 2008, Corley started his career in education, but it would take one more year to officially become a band director.
“The first year, I had my degree, but I didn’t have my teaching license,” Corley said. “There was a holdup on it for some reason. So, the first year, I didn’t teach. I subbed in Wilson County.”
Corley said he’s not sure whether his military service makes the Veterans Day and other patriotic concerts more special, but it does make them more important to get right.
“I think, yes, it puts a little extra desire for it to be great, but I don’t think it makes any difference at all as to why we do it. But I can’t really say that, because it’s not a hypothetical I can run, because I was in the military,” Corley said.
“Certainly it has bearing on the way we perform, patriotic tunes in general. They’ve got to be up to snuff. There’s a bar we’ve got to meet when we play them. That’s part band director, and that’s part me being in the military by playing a military song accordingly.”
Corley, the concert band and choir wrapped up another Veterans Day performance last Sunday afternoon at the school to a crowd of about 150 people. Though attendance has grown over the years, it’s one area where he’d like to see even more progress.
“I love it. I love seeing other military people here,” Corley said. “I would love it if we were packed with veterans … I love that our people come, because when I started here, they didn't. When we were over in the old building, we couldn’t fill that place up. We didn’t come close to it. It wasn’t a packed house, but there was a decent crowd tonight.”
Next up for the band will be the area Christmas parades and a concert.