News Column

Honey Grove High School band wins top honors

August 23, 2014

By Joshua Brumett, Herald Democrat, Sherman, Texas

Aug. 23--HONEY GROVE -- When Honey Grove Band Director JoAnn Syring learned her group of students was named the top division 1A band in the state of Texas, the first person she told wasn't a principal or administrator. It was head drum major and high school senior Natalie Ferguson.

"I just got a text that said pack your bags, we're going to San Antonio," Ferguson said.

The title of State Honor Band is the highest award a concert band can earn through competition in the University Interscholastic League. Bands can submit recordings from a year's concerts and competitions to a panel of UIL judges. After a three-tiered judging process, one band is selected from each eligible school size division as the state champion.

Ferguson said she felt confident about the band's chances from the moment they made the recordings to submit.

"When we found out, I don't think we were all crazy surprised," Ferguson said. "Because we all heard the recordings and I think we all knew that they were really good. I think we all thought we were going to get to the state level. We knew we had the potential."

Assistant drum major Josh Gerling, a junior, said he wasn't as certain as Ferguson. The band had just come off of a disappointing marching season where they failed to qualify for the state level of competition, so Gerling said he wasn't taking anything for granted during concert season.

"The mistake at marching contest was pretty humbling. You can't get too big of a head," Gerling said.

That marching mistake is behind the band now, but they have a new challenge in front of them. As State Honor Band, they will perform at the annual Texas Music Educators Association conference in San Antonio this February.

Dennis Syring, who co-directs the band with his wife, said over 27,000 people attended last year's TMEA conference. "It's the biggest convention in the United States of its type," he said. "It's not just band directors, but it's elementary music teachers, choir directors, orchestra directors, performers, college students and visitors."

The band will perform seven songs, over a half hour of music, for a crowd of thousands of music experts. Some of the music will be songs the band has performed recently, but some will be new to the group. One song will be the world premiere of a work written specially for the Honey Grove band. This is both a great opportunity and somewhat daunting, Dennis Syring said, but luckily the band will have plenty of help.

"People are coming out of the woodwork," he said. "Band directors from all over are offering to help us work the band, offering us suggestions, and loaning us music."

In addition, recent alumni from the band have agreed to come back to play, and the school's principal has offered the band extra time to work.

That time is very valuable, JoAnn Syring said, because of how many other commitments her band students have.

"Our kids are in everything. We've got almost all the cheerleaders, we've got a bunch of the varsity football players," she said. "But at small schools you have to share. The good kids do everything, and everybody wants the good kids."

Ferguson said she knew how much work she would be getting into when she signed up for the class. "Everyone who comes into band knows this isn't just a mess-around band. It's a serious band. If you're going to be in it, you have to put some time into it and work hard at it."

That work is evident. The Honey Grove band is a powerhouse in the 1A division, a perennial competitor at state levels for both marching and concert band. This is the Syrings' fourth State Honor Band at one level or another.

JoAnn Syring gives the credit to her students. "These kids are super hardworking kids," she said. "They deserve it. They did not stop working until the last day of school."

Ferguson in turn gives the credit to her directors. "They are really dedicated to us. Every part of their lives is about us, and they put so much time and effort into us. It's insane how much you hear them say 'I was up at 3 in the morning thinking about what we are going to do next,'" she said.

But no matter who got the band to this level, one thing is certain. They don't plan to stop here.

The band performs at the conference on February 17. As soon as they step of the stage, Dennis Syring said, the group has two weeks to prepare for UIL concert and sight reading contest.

"And the day we finish that," he said with a grin. "We begin on next year's marching season. That's going to be a great show."


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Source: Herald Democrat (Sherman, TX)

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