COLUMBUS: Chris Hoch isn’t likely to forget his first performance with the Ohio State Marching Band: He accidentally broke his trombone on a fellow band member’s head during a maneuver.

Although the memory of that 23-year-old mishap might make Hoch cringe, the story endears him to present-day Ohio State students when he shares it.

In his fourth year as director of the OSU marching and athletic bands — including one football season as interim director — Hoch often finds ways to make his charges laugh, band members say, even when the humor comes at his expense.

“He’s very relatable,” said Erin Koyle, a third-year trumpet player and graduate student. “He doesn’t take himself as ‘I’m the person on the podium.’ He’s not perfect.

“If I mess up, I think, ‘At least I didn’t break a trombone.’?”

Damaged instrument aside, university officials considered Hoch the person best equipped to lead one of Ohio State’s most recognizable institutions in the wake of the July 2014 firing of director Jon Waters.

Hoch, who lives in Powell with his wife and two children, was named interim director ahead of the 2015 football season before securing the job permanently in February 2016.

An associate director at the time, he took over with many in the marching band the university still reeling from Waters’ firing for failing to rein in what a university investigation deemed to be a “sexualized culture” within the organization.

Some outsiders criticized OSU officials for hiring another “insider,” as Waters had been when he was named director. But Hoch’s students and others who know him say that he has implemented changes — both simple and institutional — to maintain the band’s high-level of performance on the field and improve band members’ behavior off it.

“He’s been very successful,” said Peter Hahn, the Ohio State divisional dean of arts and sciences, who oversees the School of Music. “He’s worked really hard ... to prepare students for life and using band skills to instruct them on life skills.”

Among the changes made by Hoch was the introduction of a life-skills education program, which addresses topics such as stress management, physical wellness and appropriate use of alcohol and social media. He also created an advisory council of band members to provide peer support as well as enhanced opportunities for volunteerism and community outreach.

There was much less concern about how Hoch would handle band performances on football Saturdays.

He was, after all, responsible for designing the ground-breaking drills for some of the shows that went viral in previous seasons, including the epic video-game performance of 2012.

Since he took over, the band has continued to draw impressive numbers of views (seven figures) for its YouTube videos.

Teacher at heart

Hoch, first and foremost, is a teacher, said Tim Gerber, professor emeritus in the School of Music, who taught Hoch in several classes.

“He brings to his job very extensive experience as a public-school educator,” said Gerber, referring to Hoch’s seven-year stint teaching music in Delaware City Schools. “He knows the latest teaching methods and technology.

“But he just knows kids.”

Less than 10 minutes into the first on-field practice for the 2018-19 band season, Hoch was firing off instructions via a loudspeaker from his elevated perch on his director’s tower.

Make sure you know what “Script” number you are. Everything must happen exactly two counts between each person. Watch the spacing behind you.

The directions reinforced the importance of the moment: First-year band members in the group were performing “Script Ohio” for the first time.

“I try to do ‘Script Ohio’ as the first thing out of the gate because of the tradition,” said Hoch, 42. “It really kicks off the season in an exciting way.”

After earning a master’s degree from OSU — a pursuit encouraged by Jon Woods, the marching-band director from 1984 to 2012 — Hoch was hired by Delaware City Schools.

He initially directed the district’s middle-school bands and later, at 27, became the band director at Delaware Hayes High School.

Had Hoch not received a call from Woods in 2009 offering him a position in the OSU School of Music’s doctoral program, he said, he probably would still be working at Delaware Hayes.

But he couldn’t turn down the chance to return to his alma mater — or the opportunity to work with the university bands as a graduate assistant.

Returning to his turf

After earning his doctorate in music education, Hoch in 2012 became assistant director of athletic and marching bands, a title that was upgraded to associate director the following year.

When Waters lost his job, music-school administrators oversaw the band for the football season before appointing Hoch as interim director in May 2015.

After finalizing the band roster for the 2015 football season, Hoch sat down with all 225 band members to “redefine the culture of the Ohio State marching band.

Ultimately, he said they settled on a tradition of excellence on the field, extraordinary respect and an attitude of being grateful for the opportunity to march with the band.

“Those kind of ended up being our core values and defining our rules,” Hoch said.

Hoch works closely with band section leaders and other students to maintain open communication, said Konner Barr, 21, head drum major and a fourth-year band member.

“We’re always relaying messages back and forth and keeping an overall good attitude and upholding traditions,” he said.