By Ann Fowler
Barely three months after the unexpected death of Bowie High School Band Director Bruce Dinkins, the James Bowie High School Outdoor Performing Ensemble took to the field Saturday at the University of Arlington for its first competition of the marching season. When the night was over and the dust of thousands of marching feet had settled, the Bowie students proved their mettle by not only winning the AAAA Class Championship in preliminary competition, but by earning the Bands of America Regional Championship for the first time in Bowie school history.
Shawnda Hoppner, whose son Kyle plays tuba, said of Bowie’s accomplishment: “It was amazing. When it was announced, there was a lot of cheering coming from the stands from parents and supporters. You could feel the excitement and see it on the kids’ faces. It was one of those moments that you wish would never end.”
The band, 250 members strong, starts practice every year in the heat of August. While other students are enjoying the last days of summer, those in the band spend days learning music and marching steps, the color guard members learning their routines as well.
Assistant Band Director Stephen Howard told the Gazette: “This was not just a win for the band, but for the whole community. The amount of parent, alumni, and community support there is for this program helped the members earn that victory last Saturday. It’s unimaginable how many hours and manpower (and womanpower!) goes into making this organization run. We are so grateful and appreciative of their work and time every volunteer lends to our students.”
The Bowie marching band was renamed the James Bowie High School Outdoor Performing Ensemble when Dinkins took over ten years ago because other elements of the school were incorporated into the performance whenever possible. Under Dinkins’ direction, the band became one of the best in Texas and in the nation.
Dinkins passed away in his sleep on June 22 while attending a band conference in Oregon. After his death, Assistant Band Director Kim Shuttlesworth took up the Band Director’s baton. She holds a Bachelor of Music Education degree from UT and has taught in the Austin Independent School District for five years.
“I have been around this program for many years,” said Shuttlesworth. “I am very fortunate to help represent these students and community. This year has presented many unique challenges that have brought our team together. We are very thankful for all the support that our administration has given us during this time, as well as the outpouring of support from the music community.”
This year’s show is called “The Promise of Winter” with music from composers Walton, Respighi and Shostakovich. Ryan George arranged the music, and Jeremy Hunt designed the drill. Bowie’s assistant band directors are Ryan Thomas, Stephen Howard and Amy Suggs. The assistant color guard director is Cedric Stanley. Drum majors are Kaci French, Emma Graves, Kyle Ponder and Brent Smith.
Daniel Sanchez is a moderator for txbands.com, a “non-profit oriented website devoted to furthering the marching and music community across the entire state of Texas.” People interested in a marching competition they cannot attend use this site to follow each band’s performance, which the moderators review in real time. Sanchez is a 1999 graduate of Duncanville High School, where he played clarinet in the marching band. He attended the Arlington competition and blogged the band reviews.
When Bowie performed during preliminaries, Sanchez wrote: “This show would make Bruce Dinkins proud. Outdoor Performing Ensemble doesn’t even begin to describe their sound this year. The field is covered in snow, but when they played their first notes of Belshazzar’s Feast all I felt was warmth—incredible warmth and depth of sound. Unbelievable for this point in the season. And then they played a ton of Respighi. And the marching was extremely clean too! Proud.”
The ‘snow’ on the field was created by a series of huge snowflakes displayed by the members of the Color Guard. Sanchez’ point about ‘this point in the season’ was that marching bands continually improve and add to their shows during marching season, peaking in November, when the final competitions are held. Bowie’s music that day earned the highest scores at each performance.
Howard said, “The students’ work ethic cannot possibly be measured in a sentence. They have had fire in their eyes since day one of band camp. That fire (or ice, given the name of the show) showed on the field on Saturday.”
Shuttlesworth agreed, adding, “I am not sure you can describe with words and give the right justice to the amount of time, energy, and heart that they have put in. We are very fortunate to have such great students, parents, and community that keep motivating us to keep working. This program has a work ethic that is unmatched.”
Thirty-three marching bands from throughout Texas performed during the preliminaries. The bands are classified according to school size: Class A is 600 students or less; Class AA is 601 to 1,220; Class AAA is 1,221 to 1,750; Class AAAA is 1,751 or more. Bowie’s enrollment is nearly 3,000.
Bowie not only won first place in Class AAAA, it won the awards for Outstanding Music and Outstanding General Effect. The L.D. Bell High School from Hurst took second place and the Outstanding Visual caption. Ten bands were chosen to perform as finalists that evening: James Martin, Keller, Richland, Berkner, Hebron, L.D. Bell, James Bowie, Flower Mound, Legacy, and Winston Churchill.
As Bowie was about to take the field for its finals performance, Daniel Valdez of txbands.com blogged: “One of the most memorable performances in the history of Bands of America is about to perform right now.”
After the finals performance, Sanchez blogged, “It looks so cold out there, but all I hear is warmth. Complete and utter warmth of sound. I have never seen a more brilliantly performed show this early in the season. Ever. This show just screams, ‘We love you, Mr. Dinkins!’ ”
Howard said, “What Bruce left us was a legacy. He worked tirelessly toward his vision for this program and the level that it is today. If he were still here, he would continue his work without fail. That’s the responsibility we are left with and we strive everyday to continue on that path.”
Sanchez described the performances by Bowie and perennial winner L.D. Bell as “a huge cut above the rest of the field.” Asked to compare the level of difficulty between Bowie and Bell, Sanchez said, “Bowie’s music is as hard as Bell’s drill and vice-versa.” The difference in scores between the two bands after finals: Bowie 81.25, Bell 81.20. Again, Bowie was awarded Outstanding Musical Performance and Bell won Outstanding Visual Performance. The two bands tied for Best General Effect.
Sanchez told the Gazette, “I went down to the track for Bowie’s encore standstill performance. There were a few directors from other bands down there and when the band opened with Belshazzar’s Feast, their jaws hit the ground. I had already heard it twice, and so knew what to expect, but I still was absolutely floored by the raw emotion and incredible warmth and depth of their sound.”
He added, “From the track, I could see it in their eyes and everything about how they carried themselves: They had been dreaming of and working for this moment. And boy do they deserve it.”
Shuttlesworth said of the Arlington win, “This achievement has been a long process over many years. We started this season with a vision to do our best with every performance we have. The band has kept that promise to themselves and now get to enjoy the reward.”
Asked about Bowie’s new band director, Sanchez said, “After the encore performance, Kim did exactly what the band needed. She was the epitome of a true leader and kept a completely level head that acknowledged the amazing achievement and told them to acknowledge it too, but that this is only the beginning and there is still a long ways to go.”
Sanchez added, “I really wish they were going to BOA Grand Nationals this year. Not so that they could compete, but so that they could let all the people in those packed stands experience the result of their hard work and love. BOA Atlanta will be amazed.”
Bowie competed in Grand Nationals in 2006 and 2009, making it to finals both times. This year the band will compete at the Westlake Marching Festival on October 8, at the BOA Super Regional in Atlanta, Georgia, on October 29, and at the BOA Super Regional in San Antonio on November 4 and 5.
A minute after reviewing Bowie’s performance in finals competition, Sanchez wrote, “And there are fireworks coming from the Rangers Stadium! Yea!”
To the rational person, those fireworks celebrated a win at a baseball game nearby. But if you believe in the mystical, if you believe in things that cannot be explained, if you believe in magic, maybe—just maybe—you might believe that the timing of those fireworks just after Bowie’s performance ended was no accident. Just maybe it was a sign from Mr. Dinkins, a way to tell Bowie, “You did a fine job tonight, Bowie, a fine job.”