Orchestrator of dedication and discipline

“One band, one sound means team-work, meaning the same 200 people that are in one band, are the same 200 people that create one sound,” that is the philosophy of Dr. Larry Pannell, director of the World Famed Tiger Marching Band. 

“When one band member makes a mistake, they all make a mistake, and they all as members of a family work together to fix the mistake to create great music.”

Pannell, a graduate of Grambling College, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Instrumental Education in 1973. He received two additional degrees, an M.A. from Louisiana Tech in 1975 and a Doctorate degree from The American Conservatory of Music of Chicago in 1994. 

Today, he teaches music to GSU students, but many inspirations helped him arrive at his head band director position. He’s still striving to become a better musician and teacher every day. 

Pannell has a lot of musical experience and is a woodwind specialist. He was a band member for six years in the public school system, four years in the college system. 

“As a child, I always had to work hard as an average student to reach a lot of goals,” he said. “Now that I have a professional music career, I still use those techniques of working hard to achieve my goals that may come easy to others.” 

At age 17, Pannell was sure that being a band director was a career path he wanted to pursue. If he wasn’t blessed with the opportunity to direct the World Fame Marching Band, he would be a Las Vegas director.  

“I would of loved to be a director of a big show band in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand,” he shared. 

Although being a band director in Las Vegas would be an exciting experience, GSU is home to Pannell. Band members and staff are not only band members and staff to him, but are his family. 

One memorable moment Pannell recently shared with the band, was being selected to play at the Presidential Inauguration of the first president of color, Barack Obama.

An old saying says, “Those that can, perform; those that can’t, teach.” Pannell’s belief is just the opposite. 

“A teacher teaches doctors, a teacher teaches scientists, a teacher teaches ministers, and a teacher teaches future presidents and governors.”

“In order to be good at anything in life, you must use your talents and most of all have outstanding teachers,” he explained. 

“I have a lot of favorite musicians, and from each one of my favorite ones I have pulled their most valuable assets and put it together to make all of them a whole.”

 Some of Pannell’s inspirations from a musical performance point of view are Gene Ammons, for his tone quality, Charlie Parker, for his flexibility, Sonny Stitt, for his accuracy, and Grover Washington Jr., for his creativity. 

“From a teaching aspect, I also look at the lessons taught by the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

Some advice Pannell would give to any musician striving to get better: “A musician is not a magician. Even a magician that is great has to practice his/her craft. In order to become a better musician he/she has to practice his/her talent on a daily basis. It takes hard work, dedication, and discipline to become a great musician.” 

The life of being a band director and a band member is extremely time-consuming. Pannell said the job is 24/7, day-in-and- day-out process. 

 He went on to explain, that a regular classroom teacher arrives at 8 a.m. and leaves at 5 p.m. and has the weekends off to enjoy their relaxation time.  A dedicated band director arrives from 5 a.m. and works until 6 p.m. getting the band prepared and in shape. 

Band rehearsal is from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., then a break for dinner. The second rehearsal begins at 7 p.m. This process is five days a week.

 On Saturday, there are football games, where the band performs at halftime.  On Sunday, the band often travels back to campus from the away games, sometimes arriving back to campus at 5 a.m. on Monday morning.  

Dealing with stress that comes with preparing the band for upcoming performances. Pannell usually drinks energy drinks and constantly prays for strength and guidance to leave these musicians in the right direction.  

The World Fame’s motto to incoming freshman is to lead the band better than it was when he/she arrived and never seek to be good, or better, but seek to be the best. With that motto, Pannell sees the band in five years being better than it is now. 

When Larry J. Pannell retires as head band director at Grambling State University, the message he wants to leave to the Music Department, students and staff is “All things are possible, if you only believe.”