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Following heart surgery, OHS band director returns to class

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David McDaniel, Oxford High School band director (standing), has been away from the 150-member band since mid-November while recovering from open-heart surgery. 

OXFORD — Oxford High School band director David McDaniel, 62, lifted his baton Monday afternoon and led his music students to a tune from Les Misérables. He has returned to classes less than two months after his quadruple bypass heart surgery on Nov. 19. During his time away, he missed his students, he said.

“I still have a passion for making music with the students,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel’s career has spanned 30 years, beginning at Talladega High School and followed by a few other schools in the Southeast. He has been at Oxford for seven-and-a-half years.

McDaniel has been under a doctor’s care for more than a decade because of a family history of heart trouble. Until November, Dr. Mahomed Salame of Anniston had checked his heart regularly and found only mild to moderate blockage. Then, after a routine heart catheterization Nov. 15, Salame ordered an immediate flight to Birmingham for his patient. Surgery followed a few days later, and, on Thanksgiving Day, McDaniel returned home. His physical therapist worked with him there; naturally, having his wife, Aletha, at his side helped too.

“I could not have recovered so quickly without her,” he said.

For several weeks, Aletha temporarily stepped away from her job at ABS Business Systems in Oxford. She helped her husband eat properly, walk daily and carry out the therapists’ instructions.

“I tried to do them all,” McDaniel said.

Aletha said the hard work was necessary because of what he faces during the next few weeks and months. Each spring, he assists students as they work to obtain scholarships and attend honor bands and all-state tryouts. He recruits eighth-graders from the junior high band and encourages C.E. Hanna students to join the junior high band.

Oxford Principal Heath Harmon said he appreciated McDaniel and all the band staff for the good job they do with the music program, its growth and their desire to be the best.

“My interaction with Mr. McDaniel involves talk about the fun the students seem to have at the games, the parade and the concerts. I know they all work hard. I appreciate him for coming up with plans for the program and the professionalism he shows.”

McDaniel’s tasks were not easy to cover during his absence. Filling in were John Underwood, a retired band director who works part time with the elementary and high school students; Hunter Allen, a volunteer Jacksonville State University student who obtained a substitute teacher’s certification to fill in as band director; Diondre Crowder, who teaches music at Oxford Junior High School; and Chrissy Lott, the marching band auxiliary coordinator; and Holly Luke, the choir director who also lent her hand.

“I must credit the students, though,” McDaniel said. “I depended on my drum major, Alanna Bishop, and the section leaders. I told them to keep the band room clean, as we always do. Make sure you mind the substitute teacher and use this time as an opportunity to get things done and not just sit around. The kids rallied.”

McDaniel is not only a band director, but also a baritone player in the orchestra at Parker Memorial Baptist Church in Anniston. He said his proficiency on that instrument made his doctors happy, explaining that they told him those who play wind instruments have better lung capacity and recover from surgery quicker than those who do not.