RHS Cougar Band's Superior Journey to State

Thursday, October 26, 2017
The Rector High School Marching Cougar Band show-off their trophy for earning a superior rating at last week's regional marching assessment. The band will compete for a state championship Monday in Little Rock.
courtesy photo

“We’ve come so far. Once we were thrilled with 2's (scores) and now, it’s state competition, with 1’s,” said Andrew Garron, RHS Cougar Band senior, drum major and field commander. Garron should know. He and Jarek Ellis, Rhonda Walker and Zephyer Tinsey are the four senior band members who were there for the start of this journey.

“This group of four is my first set of beginners to finish the program with me through 12th grade. I began with them when they were in fifth grade,” RHS Band Director Daniel VanAalsburg said. “I’m all they’ve known.”

“He (VanAalsburg) is a great role model and he has our backs all the time,” Garron said. “We can always go to Mr. V, for anything.”

Back when the journey began in 2010, VanAalsburg’s focus was in making simple improvement in playing music and ratcheting up the work ethic. In those days the Cougar Band did not participate in marching work, concentrating on the concert season. At first, all scores were low (4’s) and disappointment was the dominant emotion. Even with scores hovering in the 4’s with some 3’s in 2012, the students began to recognize their improvement.

By 2013 and 2014, the band was consistently earning 2’s in marching and concert band. The next year, the band earned its first Superior rating in concert performance.

“That accomplishment had been my first goal for the band. The ranking was an awesome experience for everyone,” VanAalsburg added.

The good scores would also lead the director to push to new levels, so to speak.

“I decided to bump-up our marching performance assessment. While we could go to state competition with 2’s, the Superior rating in marching band, earned on Oct. 14, is our first,” he explained. “I was carrying a trophy, so the kids knew we’d done well. I told them I had good news and great news. First, I told them that we were going to state competition. A huge cheer went up. Then, I told them we’d ranked Superior and had received 1’s in assessment. An ear-shattering scream of celebration happened next. To get that trophy, get to go to State, and receive 1’s, the emotion was beyond thrilling.”

Rector band alumni often attend football games and are invited to join with the band to play spirit music. Several alums have observed, “We are so proud to be a part of this band program. We got it started.”

The 2017-18 Rector Cougar Band is comprised of many seventh graders and ninth graders. The more experienced upperclassmen are quick to encourage these younger bandsmen when the summer band camp and rehearsals get long and detailed in the quest for improvement. Offering encouragement, the older band members tell the younger ones that it will all be worth it in the end. Senior Rhonda Walker noticed that “our seventh graders are leveling up fast. They are totally with us.”

“Every year, we raise the bar. We may get a 1, but we look to get better and better,” VanAalsburg said.

Of the most recent effort, senior Jarek Ellis said, “It was so perfect on Saturday, and we’re going to improve more. I hope it (State Competition) goes smoothly.”

The Arkansas State Marching Band Competition is at 8:45 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 30, at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. The Rector Cougar Marching Band will perform Randall Standridge’s creative show entitled Pulse: The Art of Motion. On Tuesday, Oct. 31, the larger bands will be competing at the same location.

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