No. 10 News Story of the Year: Bobcat Marching Band rocks 2012

Tuesday, January 1, 2013
The Berryville High School Bobcat Marching Band performs its award-winning show in November. Photo by David Bell / Carroll County News

BERRYVILLE -- For the Berryville Bobcat Marching Band, 2012 has likely been the best year ever.

After this year, in fact, the success of Director Daniel Hodge's Bobcats has a lot of very big schools with huge band programs -- along with huge budgets -- sitting up and taking notice of a little school's band with a huge sound and top-tier performances.

And Berryville just keeps knocking off some "Goliath" competitor schools. "We're about to reach our potential," Hodge said of his giant-killers.

In the past, marching bands have been part of the supporting cast for the main event on Friday nights: the high school varsity football game. But in Berryville, that's been changing over the last 10 years, since Hodge has been at the reigns of the Bobcat Marching Band.

"We're starting to be more than a half-time band," Hodge said. "We're becoming a competition band." And that's what drives the marching Bobcats.

Each member of the band puts in hours upon hours of time on the practice field as well as the rehearsal hall.

"The kids (at Berryville) have totally bought into what they are doing; they believe in it and they try hard," said Christian Carichner, University of Central Arkansas tuba professor and nationally recognized marching band consultant and teacher. He visited Berryville in October to work with the band while they fine-tuned their performance.

Hodge feels that the band has reached a level where its musicians are enjoying and taking pride in being performers and entertainers, playing for an appreciative audience.

"There's a sense in our community that our band is very valuable, and students feel that they are appreciated not only as entertainers but hard workers," Hodge said. "Our whole program is (geared) to help raise the level of our kids' musicianship."

The success, and continual aim, of the Bobcat band is to be not just a great competitive marching band but to be an outstanding concert band.

In that regard, Hodge expects that there will be 10 or more Bobcats who make the All-State Band in 2013. But at this point, it's the marching band that is developing a reputation for excellence within the local community as well as among the wider regional band community.

The Bobcat Marching Band competed in five contests this fall. They traveled to Kansas City, Tulsa, Little Rock, Siloam Springs and Rogers.

Hodge explained that the competitions are divided into two rounds: one where each band plays against similarly sized schools and the second where the top bands compete regardless of class.

The first competition of the year was at the Renegade Review contest in Tulsa. "We won our class and matched up well against some of the best bands in the country," Hodge said. There were 21 bands from five states entered.

The second competition of the year, the War Eagle contest at Rogers Heritage, marked a huge milestone for Hodge's Bobcats. Tiny Berryville won Grand Champion, beating out both of the much larger Rogers schools, Fort Smith Southside, Siloam Springs, and most of the big bands in the area. "Our ceiling is not high enough for the trophy," Hodge said with a smile when explaining that it was hard to get it situated in the trophy case.

The third event was a Regional Assessment. This is strictly for placement and used to gain entry and invitations of other contests, Hodge explained. The Bobcats scored the top ratings. "We marched right before the Marching Razorbacks (the demonstration band)," Hodge said. "Then, since we were on the field, our band led the others in calling the Hogs."

At the fourth contest of the season, the Northwest Arkansas Invitational, the Bobcats won their class and swept all the other trophies -- for marching; music; color guard; and general effect (artistry of the show).

The last contest they participated in was the Battle at the Rock, at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. "We won our class and second overall," Hodge said. "(We came in behind) a perennial rival Lake Hamilton, from near Hot Springs."

"The win at War Eagle, winning against Fort Smith Southside, was our biggest win this year," Hodge said. "We even won the high music (trophy) against them."

That is quite an accomplishment for Berryville, since large schools such as Southside and Fayetteville High, with its proximity to the University of Arknsas, have access to a large variety of private, individual instruction for their band members.

But the Berryville band staff -- Hodge, Julius Stevens and Andrew Morris -- make sure that their charges get the maximum amount of small group and individual instruction possible.

"We're producing some fantastic musicians," said Hodge, who earned his master's in music at Oklahoma City University. And producing fantastic individual musicians actually helps the entire program. "I've got students teaching students now," he added. For example, Hodge said that student Indigo Fisher is offering small group and private instruction in flute.

The spring semester holds much promise for the Berryville band. In addition to a regional competition in Bentonville, the band members will journey to Chicago this spring for a national competition that will feature bands from more than 20 different states.

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