Our Staff

Director of Athletic Bands

Ben Harper

Benjamin Harper serves as Director of Athletic Bands at Valdosta State University. He directs the Blazin’ Brigade marching band, basketball pep band, and concert band. He is currently pursuing his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in wind conducting at Texas Tech University with Dr. Sarah McKoin. Harper holds a Master of Music degree in wind conducting from the University of Kansas with Dr. Paul Popiel, and a Bachelor of Music Education degree from Iowa State University.

As a graduate teaching assistant at Texas Tech University, Harper conducted Symphonic Wind Ensemble, Symphonic Band, Concert Band, and University Band, and assisted, taught, and arranged for the 400-member Goin’ Band from Raiderland marching band. He also directed men’s basketball, women’s basketball, and volleyball athletic bands. Harper performed similar duties at the University of Kansas, in addition to conducting the Helianthus new music ensemble, organizing the Prairie Winds Honor Band Festival, and appearing as guest conductor with the Kansas State Lions Honor Band. He served as Graduate Conducting Fellow with the Youth Symphony of Kansas City in 2014-2015. From 2006-2013, Harper taught high school band and courses in music theory and history in Humboldt, Iowa.

Harper regularly arranges for Division I athletic bands across the nation, has been published in the Teaching Music Through Performance in Band series (GIA Publications, Inc.), and has presented at the Iowa Bandmasters Association conference.


Graduate Assistants

Dylan Peters

Garrison German

Coordinator of Color Guard


Coordinator of Blazette Dance Line


Coordinator of Marching Percussion

AaronRyan M. Smith is currently Assistant Professor of Percussion at Valdosta State University. Prior to his appointment at VSU, he served on faculty at Georgia College, Toccoa Falls College, and the Georgia Governor's Honors Program. His primary teachers have included Thomas McCutchen and marimba artist She-e Wu, and he has performed in master classes with Leigh Howard Stevens, Michael Burritt, She-e Wu, Frederic Macarez, James Ross, percussion group NEXUS, and Alan Abel. Additionally, he has performed with Thomas McCutchen, She-e Wu, Gordon Stout, Chris Deviney, Blake Tyson, and Kevin Bobo. Dr. Smith is the Principal Timpanist with the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra, Principal Percussionist for the Albany (GA) Symphony Orchestra, Acting Principal Percussion for the Macon Symphony Orchestra, and performs with the Georgia Symphony Orchestra, Carroll Symphony, Ludwig Symphony, and Gwinnett Ballet Theatre. An advocate of new music, he has commissioned works for solo percussion and percussion ensemble and performed concerts of the music of Joan Tower, Charles Wuorinen, Lewis Spratlan, and John Cage, Lou Harrison, and Charles Ives with the Riverside Choral Society at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center in NYC. Dr. Smith is a founding member of the Arasmas Percussion Group, a percussion chamber ensemble with a repertoire spanning from the 1930s to the present and has premiered several new works. He was selected as a finalist in the 2005 Percussion Arts Society's Solo Multi-Percussion with Electronic Accompaniment Competition. Dr. Smith performs regularly with saxophonist Stephen Fischer at NASA (North American Saxophone Alliance) regional and national conferences. He is an active member of the Percussive Arts Society, the National Association of Collegiate Wind and Percussion Instructors, and Pi Kappa Lambda National Music Honor Society. Dr. Smith holds degrees in Percussion Performance from the University of Georgia and Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.