As drums thump and clarinets whistle, Ronzel Bell suddenly halts the Knightdale High School band with a sharp directorial gesture. He stares at the five boys in the trumpet section.
“You’re giving me this much,” he says, extending his hands about six inches apart.
“I need you to give me this much,” he adds, spreading his arms wide.
The trumpets nod in agreement. It’s a hard piece, but they are encouraged with their progress on a Wednesday afternoon in May.
Bell, 53, is set to retire at the end of the school year. He’s the only band director the school has had since its inception in 2004 and has acted as both band and choir director for most of his time there.
Music has defined his life for the past 30 years. He studied music education focusing in percussion – not drum sets, but orchestral percussion, he clarified – and minored in piano at East Carolina University.
After graduation, he returned to his hometown of Goldsboro and taught at the middle school level for three years. For the next 13 years, he taught in Wilson County, but returned to Goldsboro High to “save the band program.”
Mission accomplished three years later, he was called to launch the music program at brand-new Knightdale High School, where he has faithfully taught hundreds of students for the past 11 years.
Palmer Womble, a senior clarinet player, said that Bell “pushed me to my best” and instilled in her a love of her musical craft.
“He’s the best band teacher I’ve ever had,” said sophomore Randall Stokes, who has played trumpet for seven years, and started marching under Bell in eighth grade. “You can tell he actually cares about you, every aspect of your life.”
Eric Trexler, also a sophomore trumpeter, agreed, calling Bell a mentor and almost a parental figure.
“I’ve gone down wrong paths in my life, and he gives me consequences but always has good advice,” Trexler said.
“He’s got this legendary poke,” he added with a laugh, a nod to one of Bell’s many ways of managing rowdy students.
Bell admitted that many students have viewed him as a father figure.
“Those are my children since I have no (biological) children,” he said.
Struggling to maintain composure, Bell emphasized multiple times that he would miss the students, the Gospel choir, the chorus and the band.
“It’s like leaving your baby to someone else,” he said.
Although he isn’t sure what is next for him, he felt that with the upcoming changes at the school in the coming year and given his 30-year career mark, the timing was right.
Since he also leads the musical program at his church, Martin Street Baptist in downtown Raleigh, he will continue to dabble in his passion.
“There’s a verse in the Bible that says the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord,” he said. “I really believe that.”
Bell’s retirement banquet is open to alumni and the public. Details are at www.knightdalehsband.com.