Spring Concert Means Retirement For “Mr. Joe”

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (AP) — Joe Cacibauda walks alone on the stage of an empty performing arts center at Ocean Springs High School.

         "May 15 — that's going to be a tough one to get through," he says.

         On that date, the school's Blue-Grey Pride band will perform its annual spring concert — the final one under Cacibauda's direction.

         Earlier this school year, Cacibauda announced his plans to retire at the end of the year, bringing to a close a 43-year career — 31 of those at OSHS — devoted to sharing his knowledge of and passion for music.

         Cacibauda, known affectionately to most as "Mr. Joe," has hinted at retirement for the past few years, but kept returning in the fall before finally making the decision to step down this year.

         "It's time," he says, adding that he wants to have time to spend with his children, one of whom is grown and two others in school at Mississippi State University.

         When the final curtain falls on Cacibauda's career, he will leave behind an indelible mark on his school and the community.

         Under his leadership, the Ocean Springs High School band program has grown from 38 students when he arrived in 1984 to 274 this year. All told, there are nearly 700 students in the band program in grades 6-12.

         The Blue-Grey Pride band — a name Cacibauda coined himself after arriving in Ocean Springs — has received All-Superior recognition, the highest a band can achieve, in 28 of his 31 years at OSHS. Additionally, the All-Superior sweepstakes award began eight years ago and Cacibauda's band has earned that distinction all eight years.

         In addition, 100 percent of the students coming out of Cacibauda's band program have the opportunity for junior or senior college scholarships, if they choose to pursue them.

         Cacibauda was born in 1950 in New Orleans, the youngest of Joseph and Lillian Cacibauda's four children. By the time he was in the third grade, Cacibauda was playing the drums, joining his siblings, who all played instruments themselves.

         In the fall of 1967, Cacibauda entered Southeastern Louisiana University. When he arrived there, it was without the intent to study music. Instead, he planned to pursue a veterinary degree.

         Bob Weatherly, the school's director of bands, had judged Cacibauda in competitions when he was in high school. Weatherly approached Joe about auditioning for the band.

         That audition turned into a full-ride music scholarship.

         "So I went into music," he says.

         And so what would become a 43-year-career dedicated to teaching music to children was born.

         Cacibauda earned a bachelor's degree in Music Education in 1971 and remained at Southeastern Louisiana to pursue a Master's of Education, which he completed in 1973.

         Cacibauda began working as the band director at Bay High School in Bay St. Louis in 1972 while still pursuing his master's degree.

         "We had 18 kids in the band — and me," he says.

         By the time he left Bay High in 1977, there were 110 students in the band.

         Cacibauda was band director at St. Martin High School for two years before taking over as the band director at Michele Junior High in Biloxi. In 1980, he took over as the Biloxi High band director and stayed until December 1983.

         Cacibauda had met Ocean Springs superintendent Allen Curry and assistant superintendent Jack Pennell a few times over the years when the Greyhounds would play football against the school for which Joe was working.

         During the Christmas break of 1983, Curry called Cacibauda and told him Ocean Springs was looking for a band director and asked if Joe knew anyone who might be interested.

         "I said 'Yeah, I think so. I'll send someone over to meet with you,'" Joe said.

         That someone was himself.

         As mentioned, the Ocean Springs program had 38 students in the high school band and about 85 in all grades when Cacibauda arrived.

         "I always tell people Ocean Springs was ripe for the picking when I arrived," Joe says. "They were ready for someone to come in and put together a consistent program. I think people realized I was there for the kids and the community, not the other way around.

         "You have to sell the program. When I got here, there wasn't much interaction between the community and the school band program. We had to change that."

         In the more than three decades since, Cacibauda has taught thousands of students and has reached the point in the past few years where he is teaching the children of his former students.

         "His patience and guidance taught me so much more than just music," says 1994 grad Angela Seals. "He was one of the best teachers I ever had. He had a way of making hard work seem easy."

         Seals' son, Noah, plays baritone in the Blue-Grey Pride band this year.

         "I'm so happy my son has had the same wonderful opportunity I had at his age of knowing Mr. Joe and learning from him."

         Another of Joe's former students, flute player Stacey Taylor, now occupies a classroom on the second floor above the band hall, where she teaches math.

         "He would do anything for anybody," Taylor said. "If anybody needed help, he was always there. He was almost a father figure to those of us in the band. If someone had an accomplishment, he was there to celebrate with them. If someone had something bad happen in their life, he was there to offer comfort and support."

         Taylor's son, Wesley, plays trumpet in the band.

         "It's a good feeling to know he's learning under Mr. Joe," Taylor said, "because I know he puts the kids first. I know my son's having a great experience because of Joe."

         It's with a mixture of excitement and trepidation Cacibauda looks ahead to that final concert May 15. He is quick to answer when asked what he'll miss most.

         "The kids. First and foremost, the kids," he says. "They are something else. They are special."

         He is also quick to give credit to the assistants he's had over the years.

         "We have had a great staff here," Joe says. "I didn't do this by myself, that's for damn sure."

         It's virtually impossible to summarize a 43-year career in a sentence or two, but Cacibauda is asked what he'll say about his career in 5, 10 or 15 years.

         Aside from spending additional time with his family, Cacibauda plans to stay busy in retirement, judging competitions, working at music clinics, and organizing band competitions — such as the Mississippi Sound Spectacular, which he founded and hosts each year at Greyhound Stadium.

         "I'll still be around," he says.

         – by AP/ Reporter Warren Kulo with The Mississippi Press

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