Big bands on the Big Sandy

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, October 26, 2013
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Those Friday night lights burn at halftime, too.

This year, like most years, the Battle of Big Sandy featured not only two top-notch high school football programs, but also two award-winning bands.

Both the Bridgeport and Decatur bands went into Friday night fresh off of earning 1’s at UIL Region 2 Marching Contest, held Wednesday in Denton.

It was the eighth year in a row for Bridgeport’s band to earn a 1. For Decatur, it was the 10th straight year. Both bands have seen veteran directors retire or move on in recent years but have maintained continuity by promoting from within.

This year, 3A bands do not compete beyond the regional level. After this Friday’s game, only one week remains in the regular season, so beyond the playoffs there’s not much marching season left.

But they had fun.

Spreading the Field

SPREADING THE FIELD – Bridgeport’s Mighty Marching Maroon Band put its biggest band in several years on the field Wednesday at UIL Marching Contest. The band earned its eighth 1 in a row with a show called “Storm.” Submitted photo


“Cool show! Love the music! Your marching was very well done! Great execution of your fundamentals! Good job, guard!”

Those were the comments of Judge Brandon Brewer as he gave an enthusiastic 1 to the Bridgeport band Wednesday.

The contest was held at Denton’s Collins Athletic Complex. Decatur marched at 11:30 and Bridgeport was next at 11:45.

Directors Hughlen White, who has been at BHS five years, and Jeff James, a 10-year veteran, took the baton when longtime director Lonnie Baker retired two years ago.

The program just keeps rolling.

The band marches 74 kids, with six guard members. Their show this year is called “Storm” and features music that moves from “Storm Warning” to “Into the Storm,” then “Steady Rain” melts into “Here Comes the Sun.”

“It was originally arranged for Princeton (High School), whose director was one of our judges,” White said. “He took third in state with this show two years ago, so if anybody’s going to know the music, it’s him. He has a great insight into what it should be.”

The show starts out with the front ensemble playing bells and vibes, and the students begin swaying as if the wind is blowing. It features between 50 and 60 “sets” – pictures of what the band should look like at a given point in the music.

“We got to the finals at Aubrey two weeks ago, but the finals were cancelled due to the storm – too much lightning going on, too much thunder,” White said. “I told them it was our fault.”

The band has 16 seniors this year – more than they’ve had the last few years. James said the program is still building and could march 90 next year.

“It’s as much about the size of the school as anything,” he said. “One hundred or 120 is a good-size band in 3A. Aubrey this year reached 96. Decatur broke 100 last year. We’re catching up.”

Both directors say the Big Sandy rivalry works a little differently with bands.

“We do stuff to support them; they do stuff to support us,” White said. “We help each other and root for each other all the time. Our kids were rooting for Decatur Wednesday – they went right in front of us.”

Slamming the Solo

SLAMMIN’ THE SOLO – Senior Joel Forbis nails a trumpet solo as the Decatur High School band puts on its contest show Wednesday. Music for the show, which earned the band its 10th straight 1 in UIL marching competition, combined tributes to jazz greats Maynard Ferguson and Buddy Rich. Submitted photo


Decatur head band director Eric McNeil, who took over the head job two years ago when Doug Fulwood left, is in his 11th year at DHS. With Ginger Dillard specializing in woodwinds and Cody Knott handling brass, McNeil teaches percussion and puts it all together.

This year’s show is a tribute to two of McNeil’s favorite jazz artists – trumpeter Maynard Ferguson and drummer Buddy Rich.

“I’m a big-time jazz fan,” he said. “Our concept this year was ‘Maynard vs. Buddy.’ Every movement has two tunes, one for Maynard and one for Buddy. We slammed them together and kind of had a little fight with them. It was a fun show.”

Both the music and the drills were put together by Dr. Jonathan Alvis, director of athletic bands at the University of South Dakota. One of McNeil’s goals was to showcase his talented kids.

“We have a great lead trumpet player, Joel Forbis, a senior, and I wanted to feature him this year,” he said. “We had three or four different times in the show where we brought a little ensemble down to play while the rest of the band marched, and it was a lot of fun.”

He said the percussion section is strong and had a lot of fun with the theme.

“They play a lot of notes,” he said. “Those kids work hard, and on top of our show they play at two or three pep rallies a year. They really play well.”

At a pre-UIL marching contest in DeSoto a few weeks ago, Decatur’s guard and percussion section won the top awards while the band as a whole won the award for best marching in their division.

The show’s opening movement features the jazz classic “Birdland” and “Chameleon.” The second movement pits “MacArthur Park” and “Maria” in a softer, ballad style, and the final movement is “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” into the Beatles classic “Hey, Jude” – which Ferguson covered in classic fashion on trumpet.

Judge Joe Dolkos wrote the most complimentary comment sheet McNeil has ever seen.

“Super brass sound, wonderful trumpet solo. Very nice woodwind. Percussion very nice, front line well-done,” he wrote, then added, “So musical. Style and musicality very well done, nice precision and dynamics. Guard was very good. A wonderful job, one and all. Drill was amazing.”

“He really enjoyed us,” McNeil said.

Decatur marches 97 students, with 10 guard members. And when it comes to band, the kids root for Bridgeport to do well, too.

“I’m good friends with the directors over at Bridgeport,” he said. “We know it’s a big rivalry, but we want everybody to see that the band programs get along. They had a great show.”

Even though it’s a “non-state” year for 3A bands, McNeil said his philosophy doesn’t change.

“I want to entertain our crowd, and our kids to have fun and learn something,” he said. “That’s the type of show we want to do. My main job is Friday night at the football games, entertaining our crowd and our parents.”

Decatur has about 150 kids at the middle school and around 90 sixth graders, so with more electives available under Texas’ new academic priorities, the band has a good chance of continuing to grow.

“We’re hoping with the change in some of our philosophies that more kids will stay in,” McNeil said. “They have more electives now – there’s a ton of things kids can do here at the high school. I have volleyball players, football players, ag kids, choir kids, theater kids. They do it all. They’re busy.”

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