The Waxahachie High School wind ensemble could be Texas Music Educator’s Association’s next 4A Texas Honor Band after advancing to the final rounds of the organization’s top competition in late June.
For head band director Rich Armstrong, the group’s success is confirmation that the entire Waxahachie ISD band program is on the right track.
“It’s a big feat for the band to get to that level,” Armstrong said, especially considering the band program is still very much in a transition period as he enters his third year as head band director. “Honor band is the ultimate prize in the band world in Texas.”
Only 14 bands advance to the state level in the biennial competition, placing Waxahachie in the top 6 percent of the 230 4A schools. For the top band awaits the responsibility and privilege of performing at the TMEA Convention in February.
Armstrong says he can’t take all the credit for Waxahachie’s success, though, saying fellow directors Derek Phillips, Dan Francis, Kendra Ray and Donnie Owens have all worked to build the program from the sixth grade on up.
“It’s not a high school win — it’s a full program win. … It’s not a one-director show, it’s a five-director show, and it’s only getting better,” Armstrong said.
Owens, the director of the Turner Middle School band for the past six years, has a long career of band successes in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas, including a 4A honor band title and five state marching championships during his time at Dickenson High School. He said the wind ensemble’s success reflects well on not only the program but the entire school system and community.
“To compete at this level is a representation of great work ethics, dedication, knowledge of performance (and) organization of the program,” Owens said. “This also speaks highly of our community, because without community support, the program would not be what it is.”
Armstrong began the school year last fall with the goal of auditioning for the coveted honor band title.
“It gave our kids a goal,” he said. “We want to go ahead to head, and I wanted to know where we stand.”
Each band submits a recording of three pieces in the spring that must then pass through judging panels at region, area and state levels. At the region and area levels, bands must be ranked in the top two to advance — Waxahachie took second at region and first at area.
As the final step, a panel of five judges will listen to each of the 14 top band recordings one more time, and the final decision will be rendered July 20.
Even being at the bottom of the top 14 bands would put Waxahachie “at the top of the heap” for Texas bands, Owen said, but he predicts the school to end even higher.
“I can assure you we will not come out last,” he said.
Armstrong said he focused on working to make every portion of the music as clean as possible, a process he calls “detailing” the music, in preparation for entering the competition.
“To detail something is to take it to the next level, and it’s hard,” he said.
Although the band may not be quite ready to take the top spot as 4A Texas Honor Band, Armstrong says Waxahachie has the talent to become one of the power-house programs in the state. He’s already making plans to apply for the TMEA award in the next 4A competition, two years from now.
“If you do the right things for long enough, you’re going to be competitive. …You’re just focusing on quality and consistency and fundamentals,” he said. “Success breeds success, and success attracts success.”
Quality in individual playing will be the major focus of the program for the coming year, Armstrong said, by setting high standards and giving students the time and instruction to achieve them.
“There’s more playing expectations on the individuals, more accountability,” Armstrong said.
But at the heart of all great musicians are work-ethic and self-discipline, he said, and taking the time to learn and practice music on one’s own initiative.
“I’m a firm believer that we’re all capable of being All-State caliber musicians,” he said. “It’s not a matter of can— it’s a matter of will.”
The work and talent that helped the band advance through the Honor Band rounds will also make Waxahachie a better marching band program, Armstrong said.
According to marching band judging criteria, 60 percent of a band’s total score is based on instrumental performance alone.
“To me, the concert band season is where you develop the marching band,” Armstrong said. “We’re starting at a higher level than we’ve ever started for marching band.”
The bottom line, he said, is that the entire program is on the same page, striving for improvement.
“We have kids who want to be challenged, and that’s good,” he said. “We work hard because we’re good— good people work hard, period.”