Betwixt Code and Music

Texas State Marching Contest 2016

November 08, 2016

Some random thoughts while watching the live cast of the 2016 Texas State Marching Contest. I surely will not be commenting on each of the 40 (!) bands in the prelims of this contest, but I will catch many of them.

Before I comment on bands…there appears to be some kind of valve machine in the bottom view of the live cast camera. Is the Alamodome all steampunk now?


Humbly borrowed from Mike on dribbble

Cy-Fair HS

Killer uniforms! Loving the feather in the hat. Really good percussion exposure in this show. Both battery and front ensemble have some good moments. Easy to see how they got to state. Good ensemble marching and playing. Some intonation issues in the winds in ensemble music moments. I hype the sound of Pearl drums. Battery feature about 1/2 way through show is superb. I still don’t dig the tilted snare drum situation (that applies to any group, not just this one). Great closer. Really nice job, band! It’s nice to see a band just come out and play without an entire production or props and stages.

Hebron HS

Very cool pre-show. Seems like the funny hats are getting even funnier as time goes on in marching band! The uniforms look like suits. Very classy. The front ensemble is mic’ed very well. Some wrong notes coming through those mics, though! Intonation issues with the double-reed soloists. The rainy, slightly cold weather cannot be helping those finicky instruments. Winds sound amazing in ensemble moments! Now there are parasols coming on to the field. Watching individuals march is a pleasure. Some great technique that looks very uniform overall. The syncopated wind rhythms are quite tricky. Very impressive if together. Almost got it! The ensemble woodwind “noodling” is pretty great. 😜 Very proud of my former private lesson student Tanner Trigg who is their percussion director. He’s doing some great stuff with his students!

(Have to go in to the office…Got to the office and realized that I could actually pause the live broadcast 😉)

Hendrickson HS

Neat concept…The 3D idea is good, but you had me at Daft Punk. Cool front ensemble moment with fast-moving 16th notes. I feel like everyone is getting the oboe soloist worked into their show! Maybe that is a requirement nowadays. 😀 Another requirement might be having the Dies Irae in the show, too! It makes sense…timeless music that is effective. Ensemble woodwinds are not coming through clearly. Might be a situation where it is not clean, but it might be a staging issue, too. Tubas running is never easy. Trombone players with shades on. Very cool. 😎 Oh! The show ended without hearing the whole band, just a trombone trio with full band back up. That was odd.

(Really wishing the volume of this live stream was higher from their end!)

Laredo United HS

I taught a couple of summer camps for the percussion section back in the mid-2000s for United HS. So glad to see Mr. Mallon and Mr. Garcia taking their students to state! My good friend Hector Gil taught this group long ago. My successor at Berkner High School, Mike Garcia, went to school here, too! Soft start with a low-volume live feed means I cannot really hear the group, sadly. Cool, Hector wrote the percussion music! Everyone loves Romeo and Juliet music. Excellent choice! Ensemble forms are hitting pretty well. (I watched this group in several chunks as I was oft distracted by my actual job…gotta write that code!) Making a heart on the field. Nice tutti form here! The balcony scene brings back 9th grade English class for me…”But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the sun…”

Spring HS

The pre-show music is identical to Berkner’s later on today. Whoa. Also, liking the green colors! I like that they are taking advantage of a large portion of the field as a canvas. Front ensemble up on stages…so much tallness! Some cool moments in this show, for sure. I was distracted having some coding conversations during the show, so I didn’t get some of the nuances, surely.

Reagan HS

Bigger group than I remember. Vocalist adds a cool effect. Saw a band just run out of the pit area. Announcement is in a really odd place! I guess this is a BOA show that started very early to stay under the UIL time. Looks like we will have a vocal soundtrack the whole time. Individual marching style always uniform. Calypso! Yes! Cool heart form on the field. Steel drums in the front ensemble. Much fun! Nice tutti band sound at the end of the calypso production. Cool triangle-shaped stage for the color guard at the end of the slow movement. I bet this sounds great live. Very nice ensemble marching in the end of the show (when winds are not playing). Winds are handling compound meter playing very well. The final formation is a bit unclear. Fun show!

Keller HS

This group has just been getting better and better every year. I used to teach in the same district at Fossil Ridge HS, and I always enjoyed talking to their staff. Obligatory oboe soloist to start off the show. Wow, the ensemble forms are super clean. Their plumes make every performer look about seven feet tall. Nice sounding group! Kind of odd that the cymbal line is not wearing a hat like the rest of the marchers. This band will make finals. Circle drill. Excellent playing and marching. Featuring lots of different aspects of the program frequently. Such great playing from the winds. I wish the metals in the front ensemble were a little quieter, but there are like 30 students down there! The percussion section is enormous — 8 snares, 6 quads is so big for a high school group. Congrats to Frank C. for just being able to tune that many sets of quads! Great show!

Wylie HS

Full disclosure: I helped out this percussion section the week before the Area contest this year. Great students! Tough forms on the opening moves are exposed and very well done. Good to hear the percussion doing so well at state! Very nice playful moments in both playing and marching from the winds. The percussion writing is so tasteful and musical—digging it. Front ensemble transition to low brass is nicely done. Tubas finally get a soli! The mellophone line is pretty rad with several great moments. Winds really do sound pretty good. Great show, folks!

Lunch break

I had to skip some bands to get work done and eat. Life goes on!

Hanna HS

I was honestly only halfway listening due to writing code and making commits to GitHub. I could tell that the battery was Stellar! Spock rolls!!

Vista Ridge HS

My college pal Hector Gil teaches percussion at Vista. I have spent a lot of time working with him and his students over the years. He is an amazing teacher. This band has done great in 5A but moved up to the big leagues this year. Excited to see what they have in store. The ability to go to state two years in a row is extremely rare. Cool pre-show intro. Throwback! That’s a LOT of tubas out there. Sweet clean beats from the percussion section, as expected. Excellent start to this production. Jeez…percussion is extraordinary. Ensemble formations are great. The musical selections are very fun. Music is definitely from a Pixar film…I think it is Ratatouille. Enjoying this group a lot. Great job, Vista!

Duncanville HS

This group has been a standard-bearer for Texas bands for 40 years. What a great group. One of the band directors is a percussionist who aged-out of DCI with me in 2000. They are always a joy to watch. Pre-show with some Satie…fancy. Killer opening forms! Eiffel Tower for the win! There is a lot to watch in this show. They are excellent at filling the moments with engaging visuals and music. The tuba soloist is rocking it. Woodwind arcs look fantastic. Soprano sax and flugel horn in the front. Quite different. The color guard (high hats?) holding huge roses is effective. Individual marching is quite good in this group. The can-can had a tiny bit of musical phasing from battery to winds. Corrected quickly. The woodwinds are SOLID! That French flag is HUGE. Nice moment — well done, band! 🇫🇷

Berkner HS

Alright, I am incredibly biased. My uncles were in the first graduating class of ‘72 at Berkner. My mom graduated in ‘79. My uncle is married to the very first “Band Sweetheart” from Berkner. I taught there full-time from 2001-2003 and every summer for the next 10 years. I was the Percussion Director one full year before switching into a full-time software career. Just loved the show. So much emotion. A perfect message for these young students and our entire world: Finding Balance. ☯️

Bell HS

When I taught at Trinity HS in Euless for two years, our sister school in HEB ISD was L.D. Bell. This group has been so consistently great for 15 years now. They are the last band to win the SMC that is not Marcus…way back in 2004! Way to represent the mid-cities, Blue Raiders! Their pre-show soundscape is terrific. Everyone loves Scheherazade! Tiny bit of phasing in the field drum. I know that my little brother Stephen is walking off the field right now with Berkner LOVING hearing this music behind him! Me being a former percussion director…seeing three synthesizers and 25 yards of a front ensemble makes me cry a little bit. The logistics of such a huge group is tough to manage! Good marching from this group, as one would expect.

Leander HS

Been watching Leander ISD for years now. I have several friends working there. My brother Stephen (18yo percussionist at Berkner) has been telling me that this show is the bomb. Rifles are nails. I like the minimalistic props of empty cubes and such. Pretty risky exposure for the fast wind licks—mostly working out. I also love the color blue (hey, I taught at North Mesquite with the Big Blue Band for five years!). I like that the front ensemble is all ganging up on the vibraphones. The world needs more good vibes right about now. 🤓 Percussion feature is cool writing, but could be a little easier for the sake of clarity. Nice concert bass tuning! The turning cube is REALLY COOL! Such a simple idea, but well done!

Marcus HS

This band has won this contest five times in a row…that is a decade of being the best. I am always wowed by the class of the entire program from staff to students to parents. The Marcus parents give every band a standing ovation. They are respectful. Being a percussionist means that I have always known the drummers at Marcus to be among the very best. I marched DCI with several college percussionists that attended Marcus. Solid players. Even the pre-show is drawing me in. I love that the front ensemble has different uniforms. That ensemble sound from the winds…this is why they win!!!! Excellent form control and awareness. Hard to find anything wrong with this ever. Wow, I am blown away by the musicality of these young musicians. Truly beautiful music-making. Mellophone soloist starting on high note. Get it, quads! So nice to hear clean triplet rolls and triple-stroke rolls. Closer is the same as one of Berkner’s tunes, but much faster. This band is still making great performances!

The Woodlands HS

Can’t go wrong with Bernstein. This was the music from the last marching show I ever marched. The “W” on the field is noted. Yeah, rifles. Tutti double-tonguing is so demanding. The vocalist transitioning between songs is used so often! The woodwind chamber ensemble is pretty. I bet the end of “Place for Us” was terrific live in the dome! We have a real percussion feature that is nicely done. Again with the “W”! Color guard is terrific in this group! Ensemble forms are very well done, too.

Vandegrift HS

Let’s see how Vandy is in the big leagues. My pal who lives in Austin is a percussion lesson teacher here. He is among the best anywhere. Great opening. Battery section is nailing it. Such good stuff on the opener. The backfield soft playing is very tender. Nice stuff. This band is huge now. Solid ensemble form at the end of the slow piece. I love the Finale of Tchiak Sym. No. 4. Terrific musical choice and well done. Front ensemble is the best I have heard at SMC so far today. These kids will be near the top of this event today.

Plano East Senior HS

Nice musical choices for this group. HUGE percussion section. John Brennan is doing such good work over there. Battery is so figured out. YES, QUADS. I like the exposure of each section and sub-section in the band. I really like this show. The synth might be covering up the winds. Hard to tell since I am watching in my living room. 😏 This quad line is stellar. This show was terrific!

Flower Mound HS

I had the great chance to work with this group for two weeks this past summer. The battery is very young and really excellent! I saw this show at Area Marching Contest. It’s one of the best high school shows I have ever seen. Great design. Excellent execution. I hope that they play well in the dome tonight! It was as great as I remember. I foresee these kiddos taking the title this year. What a fun show! I have seen it three times and keep seeing more and more stuff that wows me each time.

After this I have the State Marching Contest on, but, let’s be honest, it’s Election Day. I am looking at the NY Times and The Guardian websites way too much to pay too much attention to the bands!

Congrats to all performers. It is a blast to make an appearance at the Texas SMC for any group! Go search for the results online and try to figure out the scoring system, too. 🤔

Michael D. Mathew.

Written by Mike Mathew who lives and works in Dallas building useful things. Sometimes he posts on Mastodon. Mike also wears many hats at Presto Assistant where he is a co-founder, owner, and product engineer.