In Liberty Hill, band success begins in 6th grade

Students practice their brass instruments at Liberty Hill Intermediate School.  The emphasis at the sixth grade is “to get a good solid basis for being successful players,” said LHIS Band Director Kevin Baird. (Dana Delgado Photo)

Students practice their brass instruments at Liberty Hill Intermediate School. The emphasis at the sixth grade is “to get a good solid basis for being successful players,” said LHIS Band Director Kevin Baird. (Dana Delgado Photo)

By Dana Delgado

The news was so exciting that the entire marching band jumped up out of their seats in celebration at the Vista Ridge High School Invitational Band Contest this past weekend.

The Liberty Hill High School Marching Band had just been recognized and got to perform under the lights where they reaped a host of honors. The Panther Band was named “Best in Class,” “Best Color Guard,” and “Best General Effect.” The band program had good reason to celebrate and the district team of band specialists and directors that have been retooling and supporting the program could not have been happier.

After having a good band program for years, LHISD is knocking on the door of becoming an elite program.

“It was so good, so positive,” said LHHS Band Director John Perrin. “Our show was consistent. This was a first for LHHS in band competition.”

“There’s going to be a buzz about the band in Liberty Hill,” said high school percussion teacher Andy Anker. “This is the most demanding but most exciting show the high school has ever performed. Everyone is bringing everything to the plate and high school band students are hungry to go to state.

Jared Clarkson, first assistant high school director, said seniors told him they would give anything to be at LHHS another year after seeing the growth and success of the program.

While much credit can go around, district band directors say the success is the result of a strong and ever-strengthening music foundation established in the school district’s feeder programs, which begin in the sixth grade at the Intermediate School.

Nine years ago, the sixth grade band program had only 70 students. The enrollment grew to 160 before stabilizing to its current 125 students said Intermediate Band Director Kevin P. Baird, who has been with LHISD for six years.

As the enrollment has grown, facilities have been modified and expanded to address unique needs of first-year band students. Baird said the success of the Intermediate School program is the result of the success of the band programs throughout the district. In addition, he indicated that enrollment increases have been due to parental encouragement of their children to pursue band because of its many benefits.

Baird said that students learn to multi-task and are able to pursue creative outlets through band instruction. Furthermore, the director said that it has been proven that music uses a larger percentage of the brain than other activities. Another major benefit is having an “instant school family” that offers social opportunities and support.

In fifth grade, students learn music theory and learn to play the recorder to practice breathing techniques from music teacher Laura Davis.

“Mrs. Laura Davis does amazing things with the kids, from performances to great fundamental music theory education,” Baird said.

Each spring, all district band directors meet with fifth grade students interested in taking band. Directors demonstrate the various instruments and provide students the opportunity to try them individually before making their recommendations.

“This has been very successful and each year we have a great number of band students that work hard from the beginning of the year through all of sixth grade as well as being successful in junior high and high school,” said Baird. “Among the keys to their success is their decision to be disciplined at practicing regularly to improve.”

Sixth grade students Mallory Mahan and Jared Dumas exemplify students who feel they have found their niche in band. Miss Mahan moved from Dallas this year and said she “wanted to try something new.” She is playing the flute and is quite happy with being a part of the band.

“Band is a lot of fun and you learn so much,” said Miss Mahan, who is the daughter of Todd and Kristen Mahan. “The teachers are great and I hope to get good and plan to continue with the band program.”

Dumas comes from a long line of musicians. His mother and grandmother were both trumpet players and his older brother got into band.

“I always wanted to be in the band,” said Dumas, the son of John and Regena Dumas. “I thought it was really cool. It’s fun and you meet new people and make new friends with whom you bond. It’s a little frustrating because fingering an oboe is complicated. It will take a while but I will get good at it. I look forward to someday being in the marching band.” Intermediate School Director Baird said he has nothing but praise for his students including Miss Mahan and Dumas.

“Mallory has really enjoyed being in band with her friends and is developing into a strong flute player who’s fearless and up to the challenges of being in the band,” said Baird. “Jared is playing the oboe – one of the most difficult instruments to begin and have success on. His edge is that he has a brother in the high school band who plays oboe and has helped him a little. Jared likes to see success for his efforts and has had some great moments when his whole face lights up.”

“The joys of teaching band,” said Baird, “are seeing the kids’ growth and development. Students experience their most growth their first year. I’m here for the kids and feel it is vitally important that beginners get a good solid basis for being successful players.”

Baird added that one of the keys to a successful intermediate band program is the support of all the band directors and specialists including Perrin, Anker and Clarkson.

“Each of our band directors is here on a daily basis, teaching and mentoring (mentoring me as well as the kids!),” Baird said. “Mr. Perrin, as the high school director has many duties, but he is here almost every day working with each of us in our classes and helping us stress fundamentals. Mr. Anker takes care of the percussion classes – of which there are two – as well as the percussion instruments. Mr. Clarkson is here for every period and helps make the success of the band. He teaches all of the brass students (trumpets, French horns, trombones, baritones and tubas) and has been vital in creating an atmosphere of student responsibility here at the Intermediate.”

This year, the sixth grade band will have three major performances, plus some interesting new things.

The first performance is a Christmas concert on Dec. 9 at the high school auditorium. Lunchtime performances by all band classes, which were a big hit last year, return this year and will be held following testing days. Still in the works is a Fine Arts Fest that promises plenty of surprises.

Also scheduled is a concert at the Schlitterbahn Sound Waves Festival where students also get the opportunity to enjoy the water park. At the end of the year, a concert which will showcase each section is scheduled for May 28 at the high school.

Baird, who specializes in the woodwind instruments, grew up in a family that sang all the time and took piano lessons early on. He got his start in band in Austin ISD.

“I made a sound with the saxophone on my first visit with the band director and it stuck,” he said.

He went on to write music, teach band in a private school, and was a member of an Air Force Band that played jazz and concert music. Baird also spent 12 years in the corporate world and aside from his current band director duties, he currently plays in a rock band, “Rhythm Congress,” and is part of a 20-piece dance band, “Lone Star Swing Syndicate.”