Small Band, Big Sound

Four years after its resurrection, Saltillo music program earning high marks in competition

By FAITH HUFFMAN | News-Telegram News Editor

Apr. 15, 2007 - Saltillo's band earned superior rating at the Sandy Lake Fun Fest April 11, a first for the 18-member band composed of seventh through 11th graders and a music program that didn't even exist four years ago.

"As a varsity band, they walk in the underdog even at the 1A level, where some schools have 50 members," said Saltillo band director Melissa Bilyeu. "Most seventh and eighth grade bands get superior ratings [competing in their own age group]. Ours played varsity and earned a superior. That's really something, an accomplishment. I was real proud of them"

Bilyeu has been gradually rebuilding the band program since the 2003-2004 school year. The program was discontinued for a few years after long-time band instructor Lloyd Cook's retirement.

The superior ranked varsity band consists of Taryn Simmons, Amanda Fowler, Bobby Vanlandingham, Ravyn Simmons, Brett Smith, Bobby Goldsmith, Peter Feijen, Maikel Groenewold, Kayla Walker, Matthew Clover, Nolan Garmon, Michael Nabors, Michael Davis, Devin Charlton, Tai Christian, J.D. Stevens, Landon Camp and Bree Hubbard.

The students' accomplishment is especially notable. With only 18 members, it's considered small for a high school band — even at the 1A level, some high schools have 50 members.

But more significant is the fact that the musicians are primarily junior high students who were judged at the high school level.

The band consists of five seventh graders, six eighth graders, six sophomores and one junior. The presence of the 11th-grader meant the group had to compete at the high school level.

But they still earned a superior rating as a 1A varsity band after performing Anne McGinty's "Sea Song Trilogy" for a panel of judges.

Eue to the school schedule, they only spend 25 minutes in band class each day, which at some schools would only be long enough to get warmed up. All the students are also actively involved in other extracurricular programs, from track, basketball and baseball to FFA and other activities. Scheduling conflicts make trying to hold before or after school rehearsals impractical.

Bilyeu credits the older students' leadership as contributors to the band program's continued improvements. She said the high school students really step up to help guide the younger students and encourage them to make the "stretch" from the beginning sixth grade band to the varsity playing level.

The band program at Saltillo Independent School District offers two classes, the sixth grade beginners and the 7-12th grade band. 

The sixth grad band, which also has 18 members, also competed at the Sandy Lake meet, earning an overall excellent rating. They played the Native American piece "Anasazi," composed by John Edmonson, the varsity judge.

Bilyeu said her goal when she began building the program was to start out small and avance the program on pace with the students' interest and skill levels.

The first year was a starting point, the second a building year. Last year, she had enough students playing well enough to introduce them to competition. The goal was not to win, but to get them used to playing for judges.

Bilyeu says that she hopes to continue over the next few years to take the students to contests such as Sandy Lake, and eventually ready them for UIL competition.

Bilyeu said that even if the varsity band only has 18 students annually, she hopes it will garner recognition not as a "good small band," but as a "good band."

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