The award-winning Panther Band became the history-making Panther Band last Saturday (March 3) at Millbrook High School when, for the second year in a row, they earned Virginia Honor Band status – the highest honor a program can receive from the Virginia Band and Orchestra Director’s Association (VBODA).
“Back in the fall, we earned a 1 [superior] rating in marching band,” said director David DeBoer. “After that, we immediately started to prep because that qualified us to be in the running for Honor Band in this contest. This title is given to a band when they are awarded a superior rating in the fall at the Virginia State Marching Assessment and then a superior rating at the Virginia State Concert Band Assessment in the spring. After winter break, I talked to the kids and we set goals. They were up for the challenge. It was essentially preparation goal of recording projects, after school rehearsals and practice records. They were excited for the challenge, and they did it!
“In picking the pieces,” DeBoer said, “they asked for me to challenge them. So, I did. In the process, we had some guest musicians come out and listen to us. They offered some great feedback.
“In this assessment, you pick a warm-up piece,” he said, “then two graded pieces with contrasting style. Rappahannock played grade IV music.” (The highest grade is VI.)
“The second aspect of the assessment process is sight-reading,” DeBoer explained. “For seven minutes, I can guide the students through the piece. Any form of preparation can be used except for actually playing. After seven minutes, we play the piece.”
“We did well in our concert performance and our sight reading,” said sophomore Daniel Schlosser. “In my experience with the band, we got high ratings my eighth-grade year and now in my 10th-grade year. We sophomores are hoping to get a couple more before we graduate.”
“The challenge was really there because this is such a young group,” DeBoer said. “Once again, the upper-classmen were leaders. Everyone did a lot of self-assessment. We recorded ourselves, and the students talked about what they heard. [Assistant band director and choir director] Rachel Siegfried has been extraordinarily helpful. She did ‘fake’ judging, played an instrument with the ensemble. She was a huge part of how we achieved Honor Band status. It was an ongoing process of bettering ourselves. The students went to the event, as Rapp normally does, and stepped it up to do a wonderful job.”
“Because we have all the newer kids, you go into the season thinking that the success would be a little less, like a building season,” said junior Lauren Light “So, when we got the 1 rating at Marching Band in the fall, the pressure was on to get a 1 next time in concert band to earn the Virginia Honor Band title.
“We worked hard every day,” Light said, “played those same three songs every day. It was a matter of us stepping it up to the next level. It is not easy to get a 1 rating. We were one of only five. We are a small school and a smaller band, so if someone makes a mistake, it’s instantly exposed. We have to pay extra attention to details to insure that errors don’t stand out.
“When got our rating back, everyone was so excited,” she said, “especially the eighth-graders. They are a special part of the school’s history now. It’s a testament to upper-classmen leadership and to the younger ones who made us all so proud. It’s really great for them, and we appreciate all the dedication they put into it. There’s no way we could be so successful without them.”
“It was really nice to be a part of the second Virginia Honor Band,” said senior Katie Hale. “The main importance is that it’s going to be a great encouragement for the future. We had so many eighth-graders, and they were so excited. Within five minutes of the news, one of them had updated their Facebook status. It made me remember when I was in eighth grade. They have so much to look forward to with the band program. It makes me more sad to leave now . . . to leave it all behind.”
On the judges’ tapes returned to DeBoer, the band director said, the judges mentioned that Rappahannock’s band is creating a reputation, and that the judges always look forward to hearing them.
With encouragement from every angle, DeBoer has no plans to retire his band for the season. “We are going to start preparations for spring trip to Hershey Park,” he said. “Marching, concert and jazz bands will compete there against groups from all over the country. We also have our annual coffee house [April 21] and the spring concert [May 22] to end the year.”