That’s not just hype. Two years ago, the last time 3A bands could compete all the way to the state level, five of the top 10 bands at state came from this region, including Argyle, the 3A state champion.
So it’s no surprise that all nine class 3A bands in last Saturday’s UIL Region 2 Marching Contest in Denton earned top ratings. Decatur and Bridgeport High School bands both took straight 1s from the three judges in Saturday’s contest.
In 2A competition, Alvord and Paradise both earned 1s while Boyd took a 3. That afternoon when the 5A bands marched, Northwest earned straight 1s.
Bridgeport marched 63 students at 12:15 while Decatur took the field with 90 at 12:45. Both will take part in the Area round this Saturday at Denton’s Collins Stadium, with Bridgeport marching at 11 and Decatur to perform at 1:15. The top 10 bands will make the finals, and four from that group will qualify for State Marching Contest, to be held Nov. 5-6 in the Alamodome in San Antonio.
DHS band director Eric McNiel said being in this region raises the bar for everyone.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “It drives us to push our kids harder, to make it better.”
McNiel, who has been in Decatur for 10 years but is in his first year at the helm of the DHS program, said his philosophy is a little different from some.
“We’re really there to entertain the crowd,” he said. “I don’t care what the judges think of our show. I want our kids to be successful, but if we can get the crowd on their feet, then we’ve done our job.”
The Decatur band got straight 1s at region – top grades from all three judges.
“It was a pretty fun day for our kiddos,” McNiel said.
Decatur’s show is called “Nightscape” and starts with a tune called “Dusk” about the sun going down. With the second number, it “gets a little crazy” as the band plays “Into the Night” – which is basically about bad dreams but is “pretty cool, actually.”
The third tune was composed in honor of Shane Eichthaler, a DHS student and trumpet player who died along with his mom in a car accident during Thanksgiving break in 2007.
“It’s called ‘The Shimmering Light,’ and it’s about the dawn of a new day,” McNiel said. “It starts out with a trumpet solo. It’s kind of the sad part of our show, but then the rest of it is about hope.”
The DHS band doesn’t use props or fancy choreography. They just work to march and play very well.
“We’re going to open up our sound this weekend at the Area marching contest and let it rip,” McNiel said. “In a contest three weeks ago, the judges’ comments said we were too aggressive, so we backed off. Last week, the judges said we were not aggressive enough. So we’re just going to open it up.”
Bridgeport High School band director Hughlen White said his band, too, focuses on playing clean and marching well. The theme of their show is “Beowulf” – a literary hero from the Middle Ages.
“We came up with it last year right after marching contest,” White said. “Since we’re one-to-one with Macbooks now, I asked the kids to email me 10 ideas for shows next year. I got several hundred ideas.”
Over about six weeks, White, his staff and the kids boiled them down and decided they wanted to do something that represented a hero.
“It was going to be a ninja, a knight, some kind of warrior theme,” he said. “Somebody said what about Beowulf? The juniors study it first thing their senior year. So the process started in October.”
The band commissioned music by composer Barry Hurt, a former Texas high school band director who understands UIL marching shows.
“He’s very accommodating to our kids, our instrumentation and ranges,” White said. “We put some visual things in, a few body movements, and made sure they fit with the show. We try to let our playing and our marching do most of the talking for us. We use one microphone for a piccolo solo, and that’s it.”
White says he and his staff try to keep a healthy perspective on state competitions.
“It’s a lot like athletics,” he said. “You rarely see a program get good overnight. There’s a formula, and once you figure that out and how to match your kids to it, you start to make the right moves. You get closer and closer every year. You climb the ladder.”
White is in his fifth year in Bridgeport.ALVORD, PARADISE EARN ‘ONES AND DONE’
With no competition this year beyond regional, the area’s 2A bands can heave a sigh of relief and focus on halftime entertainment.
Alvord’s band earned two 1s and a 2 at Region, for an overall 1, while Paradise earned three 1s.
Second-year director Barry Janicula said this was the first time the 35-member Alvord band had received a 1 at the varsity level.
“I am especially proud of these students,” he said. “They had a wonderful show and it’s so exciting to see the band program headed in the right direction. The band has put in a lot of hard work, and I’m glad the students had a positive, enriching experience.”
The Bulldog Band’s show was called “Mayan 2012″ and featured musical selections from “Carmina Burana,” “Mars,” the “New World Symphony” and the film “Avatar.” The band this year also featured a colorguard program for the first time, with Karen St. Valentine helping run that.
Janicula is in his second year in Alvord ISD.
Bill Altz, band director at Paradise High School, said his band “did our best show” for the contest. The seven-minute performance featured the music of Green Day, starting with a piece called “Holiday” then a piece called “21 Guns.” The third song was Bruno Mars’ “Runaway Baby.”
“We didn’t have sets or any of that stuff,” he said. “We march and play. The judges thought we played and marched well.”
Paradise marched 66 students, making it one of the bigger 2A bands. Altz is in his eighth year at the school, assisted throughout that time by Dwight Hardin.
“The judges said it was a ‘very musical performance'” he said. “That was my favorite comment. They liked that we played with some expression and dynamics.”
Boyd’s rating was 2-3-3 for an overall 3, with 30 students marching. Billy Hazard is the director.