Moments after marching off the football field, Arlington High School student Katy Caves celebrated with her family.
Band family, that is.
Caves, a sophomore, was among the thousands of students from across the region who competed Saturday in the University Interscholastic League area marching contest for 6A schools at Pennington Field.
“This is my second family,” said Caves, 15, who plays the clarinet. “Everyone had told me that band was like a family, but you don’t realize how true it is until you experience it.”
About 25 area high school bands began the competition in Bedford, but only five could advance to state next month in San Antonio. Schools included Arlington High, Carroll Senior, Keller, Keller Timber Creek, Haltom, Keller Fossil Ridge, Arlington Sam Houston, Euless Trinity, Arlington Lamar, Arlington Martin, Hurst L.D. Bell, Keller Central, Mansfield and Fort Worth Paschal.
Standing out in North Texas, a region known for exceptionally strong marching bands, requires preparation and lots of practice, band directors and members said.
Carroll student Austin Woolsey, 17, said a good performance should be fun to watch, an idea his fellow band mates remember during each show.
“If people are singing the melody after the show, then it was a good show,” said Woolsey, who plays the trombone and is band president.
Carroll, which begins designing a piece a full year in advance, performed a show called “Contact,” which told the story of Earth receiving signals from outer space.
For Keller High, creating a whole package is key to developing a show that stands out among the best, band director Mark McGahey said. This year’s show, called “Ascend,” took on an ethereal quality with images of clouds and ladders, with members of the color guard outfitted in sky-blue dresses.
“You have to find your identity, your signature, the best version of who you are,” McGahey said. “And then you have to make it visually appealing.”
Keller senior Sarah Albrecht, 18, who plays the clarinet, said the show’s title became an accurate description for the band’s own journey this year.
“We have come a long way from when we first started,” Albrecht said. “We had to work hard, build a name for ourselves and come together as a family.”
Caves, the Arlington student, said the performance requires hundreds of hours of practice. Students practice eight hours a week at school during the school year, as sanctioned by UIL. But she said most practice at home on their own to perfect the pieces.
“You work and work and work,” she said. “There is not a whole lot of extra time.”
The band performed “Kizora,” a classical show with tribal influences. Director Michael Hejny said he focuses on basics with the young musicians.
“We want to play well and march well. I always want us to be the best-sounding band,” he said. “Props are great, but people really just want to hear good music.”
Results from Saturday’s contest were not available, but winners from the area contests will advance to state, scheduled for Nov. 7-9 at the Alamodome in San Antonio. The UIL rotates which classifications complete annually, and this year Classes 4A and 6A marching bands advance.