Musicality was not the only thing that area high school marching bands were working on this year. Learning the art of marching to new tunes and how to adapt to the changing world of high school band competitions was high on the list of things to do for marching programs in Whitesboro, Howe, Sherman and Denison.
The hard work and perseverance this season payed off for Whitesboro and Howe High schools which both attended the state 3A marching competition in Austin this week.
Whitesboro High School marching band brought home third place medals from the state competition held Tuesday.
“We had two of our best performances of our show this week,” Whitesboro High School Band Director Jim Cude said. “There were a lot of bands at the competition that would have liked to medal and we did so we are still thankful.”
This was Whitesboro’s seventh trip to the state competition in the school’s history. They won first place in 2013 and 2015.
“We started working on this show in November of 2016,” Cude said. “For the band staff and the designer, this is a yearlong process. We come up with the song selections early on. Then the band members get the music in June and for others in July. They have been working on this for about six months.”
The 8-minute show was titled, “Blend.” Cude said that the idea was that they would start with two colors, yellow and blue and blend them to make green.
“We used ‘Yellow’ by Coldplay and ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ by George Gershwin,” Cude said. “We start out by playing each piece separately. Then we blend the two pieces together to make a new piece. It’s green. It came out really nicely.”
The underlying message in the show, Cude said, was about working together. Just like how in marching band, students have to learn how to work together to make a show, the colors had to work together to make a work of art.
“It goes beyond notes and rhythm or spinning a flag,” Cude said. “This is about learning to work with people. It is about cohesion. It’s is about us learning to play as one and to work with each other to make this show. Participation in marching band is also a lesson in completion.”
Cude said that even after the students have forgotten the notes to the show, they will have to know how to work together. That, he said, is the purpose of blending.
“Listening is so important in band,” he said. “It depends on where you are on the field with how you listen. If you are in the back field then you really have to watch what is going on in front of you and you cannot always trust your ears. If you are in the front of the field, then you have to listen back to what is going on behind you. You have to really pay attention to what you are doing. You have to learn how to listen to stay together.”
Learning the different ways to listen while in band, Cude said, will help students learn how to listen in other aspects of their lives.
“We have had so many moments throughout this season,” he said. “We have had a lot of great contests. We told the students after each contest that this was not the end game. We were working on our trip to state all along the way. So it was about prospective. It was not that what we were doing at that moment was not important, but we were pushing a head. There was more for us to do.”
Cude said that he is extremely proud of the work that his band did this year even though they did not win the state competition.
“I am honored and grateful to be this band’s director,” he said. “General George S. Patton made a statement that I think really sums up how I feel about this program. He said, ‘I am so honored to have my name coupled with yours.’ That is how I feel about my students.”
Cude hopes that this season’s lessons will help to make for an even better band next year.
“We had a history night at the beginning of the season,” he said. “Someone said that as much as you want to graduate, do not wish away this experience. There will be a last time that you march this show. There will be a last band event. We want to be finished, but do not let these times be taken for granted.”
Howe High School made finals at the state competition Tuesday and finished in ninth place. The Howe band won the state competition in 1980, 1995, and 1997.
“We have gotten second place at least four times that I know of,” Howe High School Band Director Angie Liss said. “We have been to the state competition at least 20 times. I was in band in 1980 when we won state the first time and I was an assistant director in 1995 and 1997. That really means a lot to me.”
People outside of Howe know about the city, Liss said, because of how successful the band has been throughout the years.
“I was on vacation in Mexico recently,” she said. “I ran into some people that were also from Texas. They were like, ‘Where are you from?’ I said Howe and they were like, ‘Oh, ya’ll have a really great band.’ We have a lot of support from the community and the school. That is one of the reasons that I think people know us so well. Our great backing pushes us to be great.”
Howe’s show this year was titled, “Stained Glass” and used music from Martin Luther, Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Frank Ticheli.
“We tried to incorporate stained glass everywhere that we could in the show,” Liss said. “Our background on the field looked like stained glass. The silks that the color guard used looked like stained glass. Then, there was tarp that the marchers actually walked on that looked like stained glass. We used these beautiful cut outs of pink, yellow, green, blue looking stained glass.”
At the beginning of the season, Liss and other band staff talked to the students about stained glass, how it is made, and its purpose.
“Each piece is individual and bares its own weight and does its own part,” she said. “But it also completes a piece. It is just like the members of the band. They are all their own, but they work together to make something bigger and greater than they are as individuals.”
That concept was put to the test when the band competed in two contests in one weekend.
“That was four performances in about 48 hours including the football game on Friday night,” Liss said. “We did not have as much success as we would have liked, but it was great because it taught us so much. Perseverance, how to keep pushing through, trust in authority, encouraging them to follow through and trust the process were all things that we learned this year.”
Liss said the tough season was worth it when the band heard its name called during the area competition to go to state.
“Learning to push through the frustration and the weather was very important this season,” she said. “The heat and the cold can do a lot of things to our instruments. The weather is constantly changing. In the cold, the wind instruments can be flat and the pit will be sharp. In the heat, its the opposite. Tuesday at state, it was hot when we were warming up, but in the Alamodome it was cool. We had to prepare for what we were going to be dealing with and not how it was outside. Being a good player is all about being consistent with your embouchure and being able to adapt to what is going on around you.”
Embouchure is the lip positioning, use of facial muscles, tongue and teeth necessary to play an instrument and provide the best sound quality. Learning how to keep your face in position no matter what is going on around you, Liss said, will show students how to keep calm when life is moving quickly around them.
“No matter the field, you can take what you learn with you wherever you go in life,” she said. “Music surrounds us. Its something you will have for the rest of your life. Skills and knowledge allow you to appreciate music however you would like.”
This was a standout season for Liss and she hopes it has been as memorable for her students as it was for her.
“I had a past student who told me that she watched the live stream of the area contest performance,” she said. “She said that watching the performance took her back to when she was in school playing in the band. She said that it felt like she was right there in that moment with us. She said that its so important for students to cherish these moments because the memories will stick with you forever.”
The Denison High School band season ended on Oct. 30 after the 5A Area B Competition in Little Elm.
Dan Onspaugh started at Denison High School in 2004. He said that over the last 14 years, high school marching band has changed a lot.
“My first season was chaotic, but fun,” she said. “It was a lot different from how it is now. A lot has changed over the years. We were in a different district. We went to competitions in Texarkana and other places in the east.”
DHS used to be a military-style band.
“Now, it is all about pageantry,” Onspaugh said. “It’s marching art and not marching band anymore. Previously, we would play our favorite tunes and made some pictures. Now, we have a writer who writes film scores write our shows. Our designer is really great too.”
The expenses related to marching band have grown over time, Onspaugh said.
“Old days of marching are gone,” he said. “It’s all about creating an experience.”
This year’s marching experience at DHS was titled, “Fantastic Journey.”
“We start by playing a song about Mother Earth,” Onspaugh said. “Then we had a piece about the moon. And after we leave the moon, musically speaking we go out into the rest of the universe with ‘Space Odyssey.’”
Denison season highlights include making it to finals during its first competition in Sunnyvale, placing third overall in that competition and getting ones at the area competition.
“One of the area contest judges said, ‘This band does not know how to make a bad sound,’ Onspaugh said. “That was probably the best compliment that we have ever gotten because we are such a small band. Every single student has to be on point all of the time. We cannot hide a student.”
Onspaugh hopes that this season has done a lot to teach students about more than playing their instrument.
“Band teaches critical thinking,” he said. “I am trying to teach life. Music is just a good way to do it. It’s about higher level concepts. It’s not just about the individual player. It is about how the player influences the whole. There is a bigger image.”
Band also helps with math and science he said.
“High test scorers are those that participate in fine arts,” Onspaugh said. “Students that participate in fine arts have a better understanding of math and science and other core concepts. I had a teacher once say to me, that it must be nice teaching the smartest students. I told her that these students are the smartest students because they participate in fine arts.”
The Sherman High School season also ended after the Oct. 30 competition in Little Elm.
“The band season each year is hard because even though the kids come and go each year, the band program is a feature of the school,” Sherman High School Band Director Ryan Jenkins said. “It has its ups and downs. I think that we were successful this year, but it was also a building block for us.”
A highlight of the season for SHS, Jenkins said, was when the band made finals at its first contest of the year.
“When we went to Midland to the Bands of America competition which is a national circuit contest, that was the first time that we made finals at BOA,” he said. “We got fifth among bands from others states like Nebraska and Ohio. The band that won first place at that competition went on to win the national BOA competition.”
Sherman placed higher than many 6A schools during that competition.
“The cool thing about BOA is that if you make finals, we get to have a full retreat,” Jenkins said. “That means that all of the the members of each of the ten bands that competed come back down on the field when the winners are announced. It is really fun because it promotes camaraderie. Its really exciting to see all the band members on the field at one time celebrating and acknowledging the accomplishments of each other.”
Throughout this season, Jenkins said, he has watched students realize how much they can achieve.
“It’s a lot like the movie industry,” he said. “There are some old movies that look old and then there are old movies that look new. You see things that were not applied in the past. People march, but we also have choreography. We play the highest level of music. Band resonates with so many children. You have electronics in the pit, the percussion front ensemble. We have props that help tell our stories. We put a lot of elements together to make one show. It’s more than a half-time show. Its a musical and so much more.”
The Sherman show was titled, “Ice Scapes” and students got the opportunity to play with using their instruments to make sounds like ice breaking.
“We have already started planning for next year,” Jenkins said. “We have been talking about music. We have to think about drills, dances, what the color guard will do, when there will be silences and when the big hits will happen. It generally starts with a Youtube clip.”
The SHS band staff has fun making the show unique each season for the students, Jenkins said. The music they use is developed just for the upcoming season.
“We may be watching a chorale piece and say we will use it for the show,” Jenkins said. “But then people are like, ‘They are singing here.’ We may write have stuff specifically for woodwinds, brass, percussionists. We may write to feature a soloist. The sky is the limit throughout the season as far as changing up the show so that it continues to challenge the students. I have a lot of fun doing that. Kids love marching band. You can tell that they really have a passion for the instrumentation of it all.”
SHS hopes to have about 250 students in its band program next year which would be the most students in the program for the fourth year.
“We want to challenge the students to do more and it’s great to see that,” Jenkins said. “It’s nice to know that when some of these children grow up, they will still be thinking about their time here at Sherman High School. When they are 40-50, they will remember some of the music and the lessons that they learned while they were students here. Is fun to be a part of that.”