Pauls Valley Democrat
The sounds are definitely sweeter these days for the Pauls Valley High School band as it prepares to make its third straight trip to a state contest.
That’s a big deal since the Panther Pride went three decades before that without making it to the big dance.
Next up for the more than 50 members of the band is the state concert and sight-reading contests this week on the campus of East Central University in Ada.
For band director Drew Etheredge it’s the hard work of his students over this year and years past that’s brought the program back up to a high level.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the progress these guys have made over the course of a year,” Etheredge said.
“It’s exciting to see so many successful things going on in this program,” he said. “To reach this standard of performance is a remarkable thing. It’s not an easy thing to do.
“They’ve laid down a great foundation for the future of this program.”
Making it to the state contest and having the chance of being successful there is also a big deal to a group of four senior girls in the band.
They all attribute the success to plenty of hard work not just as individuals but as a group doing it together.
“We’ve been in the band a long time,” said Jessica Carlton, who plays the flute.
“As a senior this means a lot to us.”
French horn player Emily Watson calls it a “group effort.”
“We have good chemistry,” Watson said. “We all work really well together.”
“One person can’t be the hero,” says Nicole Cornell, who plays the baritone, referring to the group effort.
The team effort can be seen with high level play from each of the band’s sections, which hasn’t always been the case for the Panther band.
“It hasn’t been like that in years,” Cornell said. “This year all the sections have been really good.”
Flute and piccolo player Ashlyn Puckett agrees.
“Each section pulls its own weight, and it makes the whole band better,” Puckett said.
The hard work of all the band members, which includes plenty of extra practice time, appears to have made all the difference.
“We come in a good half hour before school starts,” said Cornell.
All four girls are quick to add extra time is also put in after school when many other students have left for the day.
All this work getting ready for the contests go into full gear when students return for the holiday break in January.
“They come back after the Christmas break and hit the ground running in preparation for districts,” Etheredge said.
“That keeps on going all the way through the year.”
Making it to the state contest also fits into another goal of the band with what’s called sweepstakes.
That’s when a band earns superior ratings at a number of contests. Two are already in the books with last fall’s regional marching band contest and the district concert contest.
The next two are the state concert and sight reading contests set for Wednesday, April 17.
“It’s the biggest award a band can get,” Puckett said about the sweepstakes honors.
“It’s a big deal. As a senior that’s what you go for. That’s what we’ve been aiming for,” she said.
In fact, Etheredge calls the sweepstakes the best of the best.
“In the band world that’s like a gold ball,” he said comparing it to winning a state playoff in sports.
“They’ve gotten nothing less than straight superiors at every contest they’ve performed at.”
At the state contest the band will play two prepared pieces of music on stage for judges.
The second part is sight reading, which means the band is given a song it’s never played before. Band members are given seven minutes to talk about it before they then play the song as judges listen to the piece.
The girls say a big difference in the progression of this year’s band performance has been band icon Jim Winkle, who is serving as Etheredge’s assistant.
This, they say, allows for the band to get more work done and performance levels to go up as a group.