New River Ridge High band director has come full circle

River Ridge High band director Chris Greco counts time for band members during practice at the football stadium. Greco is a first-year teacher who is following the same path as his former high school band director, Bill Rutherford.
River Ridge High band director Chris Greco counts time for band members during practice at the football stadium. Greco is a first-year teacher who is following the same path as his former high school band director, Bill Rutherford.
Published Sept. 30, 2015

NEW PORT RICHEY — After a few weeks of work under the sweltering sun, the River Ridge High Marching Knights were well on their way to getting their halftime show down.

New band director Chris Greco, perched high in the empty stands, was feeling good about the band's progress in ironing out the kinks of the 20th Century Fox intro while members of the school track team ran laps on the outskirts of the football field.

On this day, it was all about the view, with Greco's direction relayed via walkie-talkie to the two drum majors and the support staff on the field.

"I'm taking advantage of the height," he said, adding that in order to preserve the field, after-school practice is typically relegated to the blacktop of the school parking lot. "Usually I'm on ground level, so I have a hard time seeing the visuals. Some directors rent a cherry picker, but I'm scared to death of heights, so that won't do for me."

Next came a page-by-page run-through of the theme from Star Wars, a somewhat tedious melding of music with a marching visual drill that, when executed correctly, should morph into the winged emblem of the movie's legendary Rebel Alliance.

"Some of you got there too early, some too late," Greco said, adding that band members would have to get that squared away before moving on to selections from Jaws and Jurassic Park. "One more time and then water."

So it goes for high school marching bands. Since the start of summer camps, band students across Pasco County have been gearing up for their Friday night gridiron shows, marching band festivals and the all-important regional assessments.

Greco, 23, a Gulf High and University of South Florida graduate, knows the drill pretty well.

For years, he has been working his way toward this job, a path that has taken him full circle, back to his roots in Pasco County.

The seed was first planted by a teacher of an elementary after-school band program that no longer exists. It was nurtured further by his middle school and high school band directors in Pasco County.

"One of the greatest things that ever happened was when I was in middle school and I got to work with kids who needed help," said Greco, a saxophone player who was then under the instruction of Dwayne Ledbetter, the former band director at Gulf Middle School. "I really understood the material, and so I put two and two together. Music clicked with me, and I wanted to share that joy with others. In sixth grade, I knew I wanted to be a teacher."

He said he had a good mentor in Gulf High band director Bill Rutherford, who years earlier had followed a similar path. After graduating from USF, Rutherford also returned to Pasco to take the helm at his former school, a position he has held for 22 years.

Rutherford has had a couple of students who have gone on to become teachers, but Greco is the first to return home.

"I'm proud of Chris and his accomplishments and his dedication," Rutherford said, adding that as a high school student Greco was selected to perform multiple times in the All County Band and at USF's Festival of Winds, and took private lessons from jazz saxophonist Valerie Gillespie. "He was always that band student I could count on. He worked real hard — really cared about our program and cared about everybody in it. He always came through — went above and beyond."

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That kind of work ethic should help propel a band program that had dwindled in numbers in recent years.

"The expectations are a little bit different than when I started out," said Rutherford, who continues to mentor his former student. "It's a little bit harder to get kids in the door, especially with the requirements of assessments and testing. But he's got some good ideas."

Greco, who will march about 60 students, including the color guard, admits he has his work cut out for him.

But he's youthfully ambitious about taking on the task — planning concerts and fundraising activities and writing a halftime show meant to appeal to band students as well as the fans sitting in the stands.

"I think it's going to be awesome. He has a great teaching style," said River Ridge High student and bass guitar player Patrick Streeter, 15. "I like all the pieces we're playing. My favorite are the Star Wars sets because of the visuals we do."

With concert band season on the horizon, Greco also plans to resurrect the school's jazz band program. It's another way of sharing the joy of music with present students and potential students who might not be drawn to concert or marching bands, he said.

"I want them to grow and learn something that is going to be memorable for them," Greco said. "To me, it's my way to give back. I love these schools here. I love this community. I just wanted to come home and teach."

Contact Michele Miller at or at (727) 869-6251.