Band director instrumental in reviving program at Northside middle school

Highlands Middle School band sees great improvement after forming 6 months ago

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Most students in the Highlands Middle School band had never picked up an instrument until six months ago. Many hours of practicing later, the band members sound like they’ve been practicing for years, and they’re playing in national festivals.

The band director, Moses Evans, has quite literally built the Highlands Middle School band program from the ground up; from no students to 220 students playing instruments.

“When I got here, there was nothing here, actually there were only cafeteria tables, no instruments,” Evans said.

Evans, a winner of the 2020 Jacksonville Image Award for Music Excellence, was in band throughout his school career; he was even a drum major in college.

He went off to teach band at Highlands Middle School in the early 2000s, right out of college, and that was the last time the school had a band program.

He said when he returned to the middle school again in 2022, there wasn’t a band program, and there weren’t any other middle school band programs near Highlands on the Northside. Evans wanted to share his passion for music with talented middle schoolers.

“One of the first things I did was go to the cafeteria and I sat at a table and tried to recruit students,” he said.

One of those students Evans approached was Taya Lyles, who now is a percussionist.

“When he was describing the instruments like percussion you didn’t sit still, you move around a lot,” she said. “And I do that quite a lot.”

Zane Muhammed, who’s in the eighth grade, also had never picked up her instrument -- an alto saxophone -- before last year.

“I was the first one in my class to get my instrument, so we spent the entire class trying to make my mouthpiece to make noise,” she said. “It was hard.”

Donations from parents and the school district helped the band program get the instruments the students needed.

“DCPS believed in our students and believed in the vision we had for the program,” Evans said.

The band practices after school, during lunch or any time they’re free. With all of the hard work, the students have seen results.

“This program is rooted in love, driven by discipline and we’re just that program doing something different,” Evans said.

The students and Evans are stunned at the progress the band has made so far.

“We didn’t used to know how to play any of those songs,” Muhammed said.

“We all didn’t think we’d sound like this in months. We’re working on Level 2 stuff so we’re only in middle school working at the high school level,” Lyles said.

Evans has now made some intelligent students into talented musicians who can share their gifts and make the Northside proud.

About the Author:

Brie Isom joined the News4JAX team in January 2021 after spending three years covering news in South Bend, Indiana.