When the marching bands from Jacksonville State University and Auburn cross paths at halftime in Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday, they’ll be led by a pair of old classmates.
Corey Spurlin, the director of Auburn’s band, and Jeremy Stovall, assistant director for JSU’s Marching Southerners, are both Saks High School graduates from the 1990s. Both say there’s less a spirit of competition between the rival universities’ bands than one of mutual respect.
The men were inspired to pursue music education careers by Spurlin’s father, Glenn Spurlin, their high school band director.
“Our paths were similar in a lot of ways,” Spurlin said during a brief phone interview Friday morning, “just at different schools.”
He and Stovall were in Saks High School’s band together for only a few years — the Auburn band director is 38, and graduated in 1995, while Stovall is 35, and graduated in 1998.
But Spurlin says he knew Stovall well, and can remember traveling to band competitions with the younger alto-saxophone player.
“Even as a younger member, he was participating in a lot of the honor band stuff” that older, more experienced members typically took part in, Spurlin said.
“It’s always nice to see him out at conferences and stuff” now, he added.
Reached by phone Thursday night shortly before the Southerners began rehearsing for Saturday’s big performance, Stovall called his high school bandmate a “fantastic musician.”
Stovall said he and Spurlin were friends during those years, despite the slight difference in age.
“I always looked up to him,” said Stovall. “He was one of the leaders of the band ... You wanted to be like him one day.”
Just as Spurlin was a drum major for the University of Alabama’s Million Dollar Band, Stovall became a drum major in the Marching Southerners, helping to conduct the band on the field.
Before that, Glenn Spurlin had chosen him as a drum major in Saks High’s marching band.
Now, Stovall is entering his 11th year as assistant band director at JSU; Spurlin has been director of Auburn’s marching band since 2007.
Stovall also teaches JSU’s symphonic band and conducts the pit orchestra for JSU theatre’s musicals.
“One thing I really enjoy about my job is the number of ensembles I get to be involved with,” he said. “I get to make music every day, which I love.”
Both men said they fell in love with music in high school — and owe that to Spurlin’s dad.
“Actually, Corey’s dad ... made me want to be a band director,” Stovall said.
He described the older Spurlin as a “fantastic teacher” who had “high expectations for us all,” but also cared about his students.
For his part, Glenn Spurlin, retired now at 66, says he never intended to craft future generations of band directors — it just turned out that way.
“I was just fortunate to have great students at Saks,” he said Friday by phone. Spurlin taught at Saks High 19 and a half years, and taught in Jackson County before that.
He’s tried to count the number of his students who went on to become professional musicians.
“It’s something like 30,” Spurlin said, ranging from choir directors, high school and collegiate-level band directors — even a member of “The President’s Own” Marine marching band, he said.
“I just tried to give everyone in my program a good experience, and opportunity to hear the best music,” he said.
That meant teaching discipline in order to achieve uniformity, Spurlin said: “You see a group out there on the field and everybody’s doing different things — that’s distracting.”
Discipline is a trait both his son and Stovall shared, the retired band director said.
For Auburn’s Saturday halftime performance,the younger Spurlin will be tasked with bringing out that discipline in an honor band of 550 high school students, along with the university band. It’s anything but typical for a conference game, Spurlin said.
“It’s a fun event for us,” he says of marching with the high school honor band, but added that his students “would like to do one of our regular shows for JSU and their fans.”
That’s not out of any spirit of competition, both men said. That sort of thing is best saved for the football teams.
“I don’t really view it as a competition — both bands are fantastic,” Stovall said. “We respect what they do, and we hope it’s the same with them for us.”
Stovall says the Southerners are more excited to play to a sold-out Jordan-Hare stadium, which seats just over 87,000.
“That’s 85,000 people potentially in the stadium — that could be the largest crowd this band has ever performed for,” he said.
As for an opinion on which band is better — the Southerners or his son’s — well, don’t ask the elder Spurlin that question.
“It’s like comparing apples and oranges,” he says. “They are completely different, style-wise. You can’t compare. I’m not going to.”