The ping of an electronic metronome is music to the ears of Buda native Keith Lancaster.
From the moment he became drum major at Hays High years ago, a life in music education was Lancaster’s calling.
Roughly 30 years, several stops and a UIL state marching championship later, Lancaster, who is the current head band director at Dripping Springs High, is now ready to hang up his baton.
While the 2017 marching season will be his own career finale, Lancaster aims to continue his life’s work of guiding the next wave of musicians.
“I get a lot of enjoyment in watching students work on a piece of music, now knowing any of it, and to master it at a high level and produce a great product,” Lancaster said.
Lancaster’s path into music education was spurred by his experience as a drum major at Hays High. Working with the band directors at the time, Lancaster said it became “obvious to me” what he wanted to do in life.
Following his graduation from Southwest Texas State, now Texas State University, in music education in 1985, Lancaster set off to south Texas and Weslaco, where he was a small fish in a big pond of 10 directors. Weslaco was a big school, classified at what today is 6A; it also offered him chance to learn from a variety of directors.
Lancaster experienced the complete opposite when he became the head band director at Woodsboro High, a small 2A school located just outside of Aransas Pass.
As the only band director in the district, Lancaster taught musicians from 6th grade to high school.
“I learned a lot there because I had to. I had no other choice,” Lancaster said. “I did it all.”
Soon, Lancaster sought a way to find a job closer to home. When the Dripping Springs High head band director job opened in 1998, Lancaster didn’t hesitate.
He was driven by the tradition and the reputation of Dripping Springs’ marching band, which he had competed against during his years at Hays. The school, which at the time had just moved up to what is now 5A, was also academically driven.
“I knew about the Dripping Springs band and how good it was, even though it was a small school,” Lancaster said.
During the course of the next 19 years, Lancaster helped shape musicians in the Dripping Springs area. His tenure was highlighted in 2009 when Dripping Springs won the 2009 UIL 4A marching band competition.
Lancaster said that season was no different than any other season, which was to be “really good at what we do.”
What made the season more challenging was having to combat a nasty bout of the flu, which forced a “large number” of students from rehearsals.
“Those kids that year worked hard and fought through adversity and kept getting better all season. They never gave up,” Lancaster said.
Eventually, the arduous amount of work that goes into band directing took its toll. During the course of summer band practice, which runs from late July to the start of the school year, directors can log upward of 100-plus hours per week.
Once the school year begins, directors add not only scheduled rehearsals during the school day, but also seven hours and 50 minutes of practice outside of school.
All of that is during the fall semester and doesn’t include the amount of work it takes during the concert band season in the spring.
Burnout was something Lancaster wanted to avoid, which led him to search for life off of the podium.
But riding off into the sunset with a state title isn’t what Lancaster is seeking this season.
Getting better, improving skills and having fun is what he hopes the 2017 Marching Tigers will attain this season.
As the coda to his directing career nears, Lancaster relishes the lives he’s impacted and the love of music he’s passed on to students.
“I’ll probably remember the students who come back after graduation and talk about what they got out of high school band,” Lancaster said. “It sticks with me more than anything else.”