And the band played on
When Rusty Helms arrived at Okmulgee nine years ago he was walking into, what he has now admitted, was a pretty rough band situation.
“The band program was not in good shape,” Rusty said. “Numbers were down and they had not been held to a standard since Mr. Cooper left.”
But that didn’t deter Helms.
He jumped immediately into getting band back into shape first from the assistant position and then from the head band director position.
“My biggest challenge was getting the students back into a routine and playing their instruments and raising the bar,” Helms said.
Helms knew what it would take to be the best, as he had become inspired to be a band director while in high school.
“Music was always my thing and I set a goal for myself that if I ever made All-State band then I would choose a music career path,” Helms said.
He made All-State with the french horn during his senior year of high school and from there the path was clear. Helms would go on to study at the University of Arkansas where he majored in teaching and band.
Since coming to Okmulgee, Helms and the Okmulgee bands have had many successes and accomplishments.
“My biggest accomplishment on one side would be that we achieved sweepstakes two times, one in 2014 and one in 2018,” Helms said. “One the flip side of that, I would say that my other biggest accomplishment would be the amount of students who have learned to love music through me and the band program.”
He also spoke fondly of the Michael Jackson show the band did years ago.
“We did a Michael Jackson show and that was my favorite show because the kids got into it,” Helms said. “We even had the color guard girls dressed up and had someone dressed up as Michael Jackson at one point. We had student dancers who made their own choreography and it was just a huge number.”
That show was also the turning point and was a time when many students began thinking of the band as a possible activity for their time during high school.
But sadly, all good things must come to an end.
And as of earlier this week, Helms submitted resignation.
“I am moving back to Eufaula to be the head band director there,” Helms said. “I was not looking, but then the band director at Eufaula left and they contacted me. And I really didn’t go into it thinking it was even an option, but I figured since I’m an alumni I would go meet with them and see what they have to offer.”
Eufaula is the school he made All-State through and where his love of band started. It is also where his mother lives.
“It’s home,” Helms said. “That’s the biggest reason right there. It’s home and my alma mater.”
While Rusty is leaving, the assistant band director Cari Moll is staying.
However, there is no word yet on who will be stepping up to replace Helms.
“I would like to add one thing,” Helms said. “Okmulgee has been a supportive community. They helped pass the bond to get us a lot of things we needed. The Okmulgee school and board of education have all been so supportive and wonderful. And of course, the kids and the parents, they are all so special to me and its going to be hard to leave them. But I feel I am leaving them in a good position and, I wish them luck.”