Barrett Gray and his wife, Dana, much like their predecessors, Vance and Dale Wiggington, met though music, and their harmony continues to be the soundtrack of their life.
The Grays assumed the reigns of the South Pontotoc Band program earlier this summer, and the young couple is excited to strike up the music.
“We’ve never worked together, but we’ve always wanted to, so this was a perfect fit,” said Barrett, a graduate of Houston High School, who met his wife, a former Ripley Tiger, playing in the honors band during the summer. Barrett comes to South after having assisted most recently with the Tupelo Band Program. Dana comes to Cougar country fresh off her directorial gig in Mantachie.
Barrett earned his master’s degree at the University of Southern Mississippi, as did Dana, who joined him in Hattiesburg after studying at Northeast Mississippi Community College and Mississippi State University. The two were married in 2016. Barrett’s first job was as choral director in the South Tippah School District. He later assisted at North Pontotoc for two years before moving on to Tupelo.
The Grays take over for a couple whose decades of experience helped elevate the Cougar Band to new heights. Vance and Dale Wiggington’s joint resume included a state championship with Tupelo in 2006, as well as two turns as directors of the Lions’ All-State Band, and being honored as Mississippi’s Outstanding Band Director of the Year (a joint-award, in the Wiggingtons’ case) in 2007.
The Grays know the Wiggintons well, and consider them great friends and role models, because, as Barrett put it, “The band family in this area is pretty tight, and folks tend to cross paths quite a bit.” The two couples often subbed-in and helped each other during summer band exercises and camps, Barrett said.
Barrett and Dana both play multiple instruments, although his first choice is the trumpet, and hers the clarinet. The harmony of a band reflects the beauty and diversity of personalities in society, both said.
“We certainly acknowledge that classwork and academics are the primary purpose of public education, but for many kids, playing in the band is a huge reason they come to school,” said Barrett. “The students feel they have a purpose, and that they’re contributing to something bigger than themselves.”
Senior percussionist Caroline Holloway twice played under the Grays’ direction in summer honors band.
“He (Barrett) clicks with students,” said Holloway. “He finds something unique and different about each student and emphasizes that and makes them feel special. He has a great sense of humor and is pleasant to be around.”
Senior trombone player Austin Taylor also studied under Barrett in summer jazz band and Red Band. “This might sound odd, but I like the way he moves his hands,” said Taylor, laughing. “Its the way he teaches, such as explaining a dit.” When asked what a dit was, Taylor smiled, and thought carefully. “It’s a jazz band term,” said Taylor, thoughtfully. “It’s hard to explain, but it essentially means laying off of a note, or deemphasizing it.”
Barrett will hold the official title of band director, and Dana will direct the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade band members, while assisting with the high school players as well as the color guard. Dana will take over for previous director Caleb Mooneyham. Amanda Fliflet from Oxford will assist the Grays with all grades. An adjunct faculty member will assist with the color guard as well.
Dana said she and her husband are excited and eager.
“We’re enthusiastic when it comes to teaching,” said Dana. “We like to think that band teaches lessons that translate to happiness and success in life. In band, success isn’t measured by athletic ability but by hard work and commitment. We love that every kid gets a chance to participate.”