Performing in the 6A classification was a new experience in itself for the Waxahachie High band program. Yet, even with the new competition, the program reached higher heights with stupendous accolades.
Waxahachie band director Richard Armstrong recently sat down with the Daily Light to discuss the honorable year his students encountered. In listing the many achievements, Armstrong emphasized the "new feathers" in their caps.
High school marching bands alternate years competing in the UIL marching contest. However, because of the jump from Class 5A to 6A, Waxahachie had the "opportunity" of competing in back-to-back years, as the band earned bronze medals in the 5A state contest in 2018.
The Spirit of Waxahachie then placed 12th place in the UIL 6A State Marching Contest this past season.
"We were one of three bands who made finals in 5A and then made finals in 6A, which is a big accomplishment," Armstrong noted.
Six Waxahachie band students joined Armstrong and gathered in the band hall to recall the first year in 6A. They unanimously described it as "intimidating."
"You know that all of these bands have been in the top. Being a 5A band being sort of at the top, you had to question, 'Are we good enough?'" said Brandon Moore, a junior, about the area competition.
With the influence of Armstrong, the musicians further challenged themselves to overcome mental barriers.
"Competition unites us, and Mr. Armstrong does a good job talking to us and making us feel like we can really do anything," said Ben Barker, junior. "He has a big influence on us, like most of our success I would say comes from him."
For the first time ever, the Wind Ensemble was invited to perform for Texas Association of School Administrators during the TASA Midwinter Convention in Austin. The honor band from the previous year is given this recognition.
Approximately 40 bands submitted last year, and WHS was named honor band in June 2018. Since the group that Armstrong directs won, he will be a judge to help select next year's invited jazz band.
This year also marked the first time for the band to submit a recording for the Texas Music Educators Association's invite-only jazz band category. WHS was the fifth high school group to partake this honor.
The high school Jazz Orchestra performed for TMEA in San Antonio on Feb. 14. The Jazz Orchestra was also invited to The Midwest Clinic that will take place in December of this year in Chicago.
The list of recognition didn't stop there, either.
Seven students were named to the TMEA All-State band — and three of those students were in the top 10.
For sophomore Lilyanna Armstrong, it was her second year to qualify in the All-State competition. She even did it with a completely different instrument.
Lilyanna explained last year she competed with others who played the Eb clarinet — that, in her opinion, was a smaller competition — and this year she played the Bb clarinet, which has more competitors and in 6A.
WHS junior Ashtin Rostetter ranked eighth overall in TMEA Texas All-State Jazz Band auditions. Armstrong explained that approximately 160 students competed in the category.
"It was a humbling experience because it taught me if you want something you have to go work for it," Rostetter said.
To achieve this accomplishment, Rostetter created a rigorous schedule under the influence of Armstrong that consisted of jazz and general music theory. He conducted his own research, communicated with local professionals and practiced independently.
Next year's goal is to be number one.
Another student who has seen significant strides in himself is junior Ben Barker. This was his first year to make All-State. He was also ranked as the top pianist in Texas.
Barker recalled his 14th place his freshmen year, then sixth place last year, noting, "I knew what I was capable of and knew I had to give it my all."
Even this achievement was not the most substantial for the 2018-19 school year though. When the jazz band was invited to play in San Antonio, Armstrong presented Barker an opportunity of a lifetime — to write a song that was played in front of a crowd of about 1,000 people.
"For it to come together in front of all of these music educators and prestigious people, it was a really cool opportunity," Barker expressed.
Armstrong acknowledged Barker is one of the most talented students he has ever encountered and to collaborate with him was a privilege.
"He is talented and has amazing musical ideas and has acquired the skill set necessary to compose and arrange," Armstrong acknowledged. "I wanted to allow him the opportunity to create and be the star — he is a star — and he delivered."
The piece had various sections throughout the seven-minute song, but was mainly "fast funk." He titled the piece, "Gender Bender" because it was a funny name.
"We've been deep in brain trusting and ripping apart our marching show next year just trying to be more creative," Armstrong said. "We are in the process of continuing to perform well to close out the year. Obviously 'Chicago' was well done. The concert Saturday night will be well-played and ensemble students we are working on are starting to polish up."
"We continue to pursue excellence and the kids achieve that excellence," Armstrong added.
"Our success can be attributed to amazing, creative, hardworking staff members and supported parents and community members and last but not least hard-working kids," he concluded.
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