This piece originally ran in the Fairview Town Crier in October 2022. Since then, Ben has settled his college choice: NCSU. On July 15, 2023, Ben and his family experienced the tragic and sudden loss of his father, Tommy, who died from a massive heart attack. Ben begins classes at NC State this month.
“I’ve been in marching band all four years,” AC Reynolds drum major Ben Bratton said. “Since the ninth grade I’ve been in concert or symphonic band and the jazz ensemble too. Band really helped me feel like I was a part of the school community.” Ben started high school in 2019, back when people thought community mainly happened in shared spaces, face to face.
Covid & Band
“It was kind of weird in the 10th grade because of covid.” Ben is a self-proclaimed introvert who enjoys being at home; he didn’t mind online school which came with the benefit of sleeping late. But while he liked some aspects of virtual high school, band was different. “There was no marching band at all, and symphonic was online.” Ben shook his head recalling the first year of the pandemic, “That was crazy!”
Let’s all pause to remember with awe all the public-school music teachers who kept student ensembles going when the whole world shut down. Truly remarkable.
“One student would un-mute the mic,” Ben explained. “The rest of us would play along—or pretend to play,” he raises an eyebrow as a mischievous smile slides over his face. “When we did go back in person, we played our instruments outside for a while.”
Ben plays alto saxophone, an instrument he chose when he was a rising sixth grader heading into Cane Creek Middle School. “We went into the cafeteria and the instruments were on different tables. Mr. Dodson would clean off a mouthpiece for us to try any instrument we liked.” Coincidentally, the same Mr. Clif Dodson who helped him select his instrument in the sixth grade is now his high school band director.
Ben’s Eye Crisis
The Bratton family moved to Western North Carolina when Ben was only five weeks old. Before his first birthday, they had moved to their Fairview home. Like his older brothers, Ben attended Fairview Elementary School, then Cane Creek Elementary School and later AC Reynolds High School.
It was during his years at FES that Ben experienced an accident that would affect his life for several years to come. “You know, I loved playing outside,” Ben shrugged, “And I was just messing around, hitting a tree with a metal rod I’d found in the yard. I don’t know, I guess I liked the sound it made or something.”
But somehow, the rod flew back and hit Ben directly in the eye. “It damaged my iris pretty bad,” Ben said, taking off his glasses and pointing to his right eye. He slipped them back on, shook his bangs back in place, and continued. “We went straight to the emergency room, and I had surgery immediately.” The local doctors saw that Ben had a traumatic cataract (yikes!) and he was referred to a pediatric ophthalmologist at Duke Eye Center. He wound up having two additional surgeries at Duke. He laughed it off with a conspiratorial nod, “Let’s just say I know what it is like to have stitches in my eyeball.” Ben’s eyes did suffer lasting damage, though. His right eye is extraordinarily sensitive to light and his depth perception can be skewed at times.
A Musical Family
Luckily, it hasn’t affected his ability to read music.
The Brattons are a musical family: mom Laura is a singer who plays flute and piano; oldest brother, Ryan, plays many different instruments and is now a high school band director himself; middle brother, Jake, plays trombone; and dad Tommy played saxophone back in the day. “I’m pretty sure I didn’t know that when I chose the sax,” Ben said with a grin.
These days, alto sax is still Ben’s main instrument, though he’s also played the other saxophones: soprano, tenor, and baritone. He’s also been taking piano lessons for the past six years. Plus, he plays guitar.
“I just liked the way the guitar sounded,” Ben said. “I thought, ‘I want to learn how to do that,’ and we had a guitar, so I picked it up and tried it. I had a few lessons, but then I downloaded an app called Tabs and just taught myself.” As one does.
Ben figures he will always play music, no matter what happens after graduation. “Probably mechanical engineering or computer science,” he said of a possible college major. “I’m looking at NCSU. That’s my number one right now. I’m also thinking about Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, UNC, and Duke. We’ll see.”
During his senior year, you could find Ben and his co-drum major, junior Anita Zavyalova, at ACRHS’ home football games, leading the marching band of about 70 musicians plus color guard. “We don’t do it alone though,” Ben said, “Of course, Mr. Dodson is awesome. And the section captains are great too. We’re all friends and we work together really well.”