Doing fine: Band, choir and theater programs going strong at DHS

Published Wednesday, November 1, 2017
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Award Winning Band

AWARD-WINNING BAND – Decatur High School band students, from left, Nash Cooper, Corin Rodriguez, Tori Shrull, Jimin Song, Sergio Sanchez and Jorge Aguilar show off some of the awards the group has received at contests this fall. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Decatur High School fine arts department chair Eric McNiel says the current teaching team might be the best he’s seen at the school.

And the resulting success of their students is noticeable.

“I’ve been department head for seven or eight years now, and this is the strongest team we’ve had in fine arts, from choir to band to theater, and we all work together really well,” he said.

McNiel has served as director of bands for 15 years at Decatur. The fine art department also features band directors Ginger Dillard and Cody Knott, theater arts teacher Renee Buchanan and husband and wife team Chris and Clare Yurasek teaching high school and middle school choir.

All three fine arts areas have recently been showcased in various performances and contests.

Last week, the marching band received first division scores from all judges at the regional UIL marching contest, the top score possible.

Their show is called “Mad New World” and features a combination of the classic Antonin Dvorak composition “New World Symphony” and the 1982 Tears for Fears song “Mad World.” The show’s ballad is Radiohead’s 1993 song “Creep.”

McNiel said he gets asked if the show is political, which he says it’s not.

“We were actually digging around on some composer websites – I bet we listened to a million shows, and this one really jumped out at us,” he said. “We’ve done ‘New World Symphony’ here, which was my second year 14 years ago, and this just kind of put a more contemporary spin on that.”

“And everybody likes Radiohead,” Chris Yurasek added.

At recent contests, students took home awards for outstanding drum major and outstanding percussion section.

Yurasek’s students have been finding success as well at recent competitions, with 12 of 15 students advancing to region choir. Next up is the pre-area and area rounds before the ultimate goal: all-state choir.

“It’s been a few years since we had an all-stater, but this year I think we’ve got a good chance,” Yurasek said.

In the five years Yurasek has been teaching at Decatur, he said the number of students participating in choir has grown from around 60 to 100. He credits his wife’s work with the middle school students in helping to build the high school choir program.

Yurasek also helped with the theater department’s recent production of the musical “Godspell.”

Buchanan said nearly 40 students were on stage, including some for the first time.

“I had freshmen who were on the stage for the first time ever and on stage for the entire two-and-a-half hours,” she said. “I realized some of those kids have never been on stage, and they didn’t get one break.”

The show came together in just six weeks.

“It was crazy, but it was fun,” she said.

This week, the department is casting for the upcoming December performance of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.”

McNiel, Yurasek and Buchanan all said that lessons learned through fine arts can be applied throughout the students’ lives.

“It teaches students to work together and lean on each other’s strengths,” Buchanan said. “You learn to appreciate something that someone else is good at that you’re not good at, and because of those strengths that we bring together, we can put on a quality production, not because we all get along or we’re all alike, but because we’re all different and we’ve learned together.”

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