August 4, 2011 by wcobserver
By Susan McCarthy
For 19 years, he has been as much a fixture on the football field in West Fork as the football team itself. His energy is infectious and anyone who knows Omar Taweel knows he’s a man in a constant state of motion.
On Aug. 1, Taweel will begin his 20th year as band director for the West Fork School District. He took the position right after graduating with his Master’s Degree from the University of Arkansas and has never looked back, building a band whose numerous awards and trophies line two walls of the large band room.
“When I think of Mr. Taweel, certain words come to mind and they’re all action words,” said West Fork Superintendent John Karnes. “Highly energetic, highly enthusiastic. Intense. Organized.”
With a name like Taweel, you might imagine a man of Middle Eastern decent, but Taweel looks more like an Irish school boy with red hair and freckles. His youthful energy and trim physique also belie his 40 years plus in age. He logs as many miles as the kids in practice, marching up and down the field and directing from above in the back of a pick-up truck, always with the enthusiasm of someone in their first year of a new job. His pep rallies are legendary at the school where Taweel pumps energy throughout the Tiger dome.
Taweel is a trumpet player. He says his love for music was sealed during his sophomore year in high school in Smackover, Arkansas. Taweel says he wasn’t a top trumpet player, but really wanted to audition for a trumpet duet for the half time show, but didn’t think he was good enough to get it. His band was performing the theme music from the 80’s TV hit series Dynasty and he loved the music.
“I gave free lessons to any of my students I could talk into extra work. Omar was one of those that wanted to get better. He was at that time not first chair” said Steve Collins, who was the band director of the Smackover Buckaroo Band.
Collins said one day after a lesson, he asked Taweel why he wasn’t first chair, telling him he had everything it took to take the top trumpet chair. Collins recalls that Taweel asked him, “Do you really think I could beat them?” before Collins replied, “I know you can.”
Taweel not only nailed his trumpet duet, taking center stage every football game that season, but took first chair for the remainder of his high school years.
“That’s what really got me fired up,” said Taweel.
Upon graduation, Collins says Taweel earned a scholarship to the University of Arkansas. There, Taweel began as a music education major and was a member of the Hog Wild Band. It was the Nolan Richardson era and the lure of bowl games and a high energy atmosphere made it a match for Taweel.
“All the athletic service bands were fun and I just wanted to be a part of that.”
Taweel said he chartered a course to be a band director without intentionally setting out to do so. He says with each class and each passing year, he realized where he was headed and that his role models, trumpet teacher Robert Bride and band director Eldon Janzen, were instrumental in sealing his career choice.
When Taweel arrived in West Fork, there were only 25 students in the high school band.
“I remember how it was that first year and I don’t ever want to go back.”
Today, Taweel has about 55 high school students in his band, about 10 percent of the student body. He’s added band programs that begin for students as young as the sixth grade with a total of 125 band students.
“He’s always been worth coming to a Friday night football game to see,” said Pastor Scott Miller of the West Fork First Baptist Church where Taweel serves as worship leader.
There’s hardly a day in Taweel’s life where music isn’t center stage. Between class time, afternoon and evening rehearsals, band contests, football games, and basketball games, Taweel has spent the last decade and a half as the worship leader for his church. To prepare for two services every Sunday, he selects music, works with praise singers and musicians to bring a spiritual message to life through music. In his spare time, he’s also spent the last few years learning to play the guitar.
“He tackles a thing no matter how big it is and he keeps working and working and working,” said Miller. “He goes 100 mph all the time.”
After nearly 20 years, Taweel says his biggest thrill still comes from the moment when everything finally comes together for 55 students in a performance whether it is during marching season or the concert season.
“I think teaching is a calling. None of this is by accident. Everyone has an exact place to be at an exact time,” said Taweel.
“He wants to be there as bad as we do. He just loves the game,” said David Ferrell, West Fork Athletic Director, who has known Taweel for 20 years and considers him a close friend.
“He’s a unique individual. He does a phenomenal job. He’s one of the guys, if he was one of my players, he wouldn’t have a weakness.”
Karnes says Taweel’s band program has opened the doors for many kids in the form of college scholarships and a life-long love for music.
“Since I’ve been at West Fork, now for the past nine years, we’ve had one of the best band programs in Northwest Arkansas,” said Karnes.
Taweel credits everyone around him from the school administration to parents to staff and Ed Gay, his assistant band director, for helping make his band program a success. But he especially credits his wife, Katrenia, who he says is supportive and understanding of his commitment and assists with the school’s color guard.
“In any program, you have to give credit to the people who make it work. If you’re going to have a quality program, it doesn’t just happen.”
Preparations are already well underway for the next marching season half-time show. Marching practice will begin on the same day that Taweel will begin his 20th year, Aug. 1. He’ll spend seven hours a day that week with students getting steps down for his 20th show, in which he’ll try to replicate the Santa Clara Vanguard’s 1989 performance of Phantom of the Opera.
“I have always been very proud of Omar and his work in building a first class band program at West Fork,” said his high school band director, Collins. “I know that we can influence our students but our students bless us with more than we can ever share.”
“I know he’s had the opportunity to go to other schools and that says a lot about his loyalty to West Fork,” said Karnes. “I hope we can keep him until he retires.”