By BRENDAN SORRELL, special to THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Over her 27 years as music teacher and band leader at Laconia High School, Debbi Gibson took a small band that was in disarray to large group of students that the community is proud to hear play at events around the city. In 1989, when she came to LHS, she said, "The charge that was given was to build a program." The administration trusted her vision, and she came through on that charge. Through her care and consideration for her students she came to be fondly known as "G," and through her enthusiasm and love for the program she was building, she forged one of the most tight-knit and respected communities in the high school.
Mandy Silver, Class of 1994, who's running the LHS Band Alumni Day this Saturday, recalls being an eighth-grader when Mrs. Gibson began her time at the high school.
"Because the band was so small", she said, "I was called up to be part of marching band."
The numbers were simply not enough to do a halftime show. For the band to become something the community could be proud of, not just the numbers but the culture had to change.
One of the first things Gibson started was Band Camp, a week-long event just before the start of the school year where new and returning students could come together to play music, have fun and enjoy each other's company. Gibson said one of the most intriguing things about being a bandleader is the wide range of students that are united through performing in symphonic and jazz bands at school. Even apart from socioeconomic and academic standards of comparison people choose to play in band for a variety of reasons.
"Some kids are in band or chorus because they just like to play their instrument or sing, some kids are in it because they love the camaraderie and some kids are in it because they want to get better," she said.
As a bandleader, Gibson has managed to cater to all these different desires and also have them come together as a group well enough to perform at a high level, gaining the respect of community members.
One of the ways the community support has become most evident is in the form of fundraising for trips. During her first year, Gibson took her students to the Dover Field Show simply to watch, and they all agreed they would like to compete the next year. Even though the band was still small, they received a huge ovation from the other bands upon the start of their first such performance. Once the band had matured enough under her guidance, she took them on out-of-state trips as well. During Gibson's tenure, the Laconia High School Band has traveled to Washington, D.C.; Virginia Beach; Colonial Williamsburg; Toronto; and Florida. "These trips aren't for who can afford it," she said. "They're for everyone."
In recent years, she has also started two festivals, both featuring current elements of our national heritage. One is a barbershop festival, showcasing a capella singing, while the other is a jazz festival, bringing that music to many who've never heard it performed like that before.
The accomplishments of Debbie Gibson are staggering, but more important is the positive energy and love she has brought to all of her endeavors at Laconia High School. In class, her personality is affectionate and effervescent, focusing on not just knowledge and skill, but joy as well. Kids are "kiddos" and you'll hear her refer to many students as "sweetie." The community that is band, with all the fun they have performing, has sprung from her heart.
The Band Alumni Day this Saturday invites all those who have learned taken band classes at Laconia High School, most of whom will have learned under Gibson, to attend in order to catch up with each other and celebrate Gibson's career as she retires. There will be free food and an alumnus will be performing with his rock band. It will run from 4 to 8 p.m. and be held on Jim Fitzgerald Field at the high school.
Debbi Gibson led the LHS Jazz Band in a performance on June 2 for Laconia Rotary at the Belknap Mill. Gibson has retired after 27 years as bandleader, and will be honored at a Band Alumni Day this Saturday at the high school. (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)
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