The Round Rock (Texas) Dragon Band is solid as a rock, receiving a 2014 Sudler Shield award as well as several other recent achievements.
In 2014, the Round Rock (Texas) High School Dragon Band was one of four recipients of the Sudler Shield, one of the most prestigious awards for a high school marching band. On top of that, the group placed fourth in the 2013 Bands of America (BOA) Grand Nationals competition and earned a spot in the 2015 Tournament of Roses Parade. Round Rock placed 7th in this year’s Grand Nationals. David Mobley, who has worked with Round Rock for 10 years and been head director for the past four years, led the group through these milestones and many others.
Halftime: What’s your background?
Mobley: I was in a great high school band program myself, Leander (Texas) High School, back in the 1990s, and my high school band director was Dennis Hopkins. He was fantastic. We played some pretty amazing concerts, and it was after one of those concerts that I thought, “You know what, I want to do this for the rest of my life.”
Going to college at the University of Texas, marching drum corps, taking part in as many ensembles as I could take part in, going out to be a marching tech at different schools, doing all these things put me in a position to move forward into a high school band job.
Halftime: How did you feel when Round Rock won the Sudler Shield?
Mobley: Super excited. We just felt like we won an Emmy or a Golden Globe for marching band. Since [the Sudler Shield] started, which goes back to around 1987, there are only 74 winners, so we’re in really remarkable company. I was looking at the list of past recipients and thought “Oh my gosh, all these bands are legendary!”
To be even on the same list as those groups is pretty flooring. The kids earned it, for sure. We were nominated two years ago and didn’t get it, and then we were nominated last year and won.
Halftime: The band has received other honors recently as well. Tell us about those.
Mobley: Two years ago, we went up to Bands of America Grand Nationals, which we’ve never done before, and we made it to fourth place. We won Outstanding Music in semifinals. From there, we were selected to go to the Rose Parade, which we did on January 1 this year. Big undertaking. You take part in Bandfest, where you go and do your show from the fall, so it means keeping the marching show alive all the way through December and getting ready for the parade on top of that.
Halftime: What’s your show this year?
Mobley: The varsity show this year is called “This is My Letter to the World,” and it’s based on “Appalachian Spring,” the ballet.
The varsity marching band is doing that show at all the competitions while we also have a junior varsity band that’s doing the Friday night football games. Last year we had 350 kids on the field, and that’s a lot of feet and a lot of music to clean. So we said, “If we break this into two groups and give them audition spots and grade them by skill level, we’re better serving all of the students.”
[The JV band has] done a patriotic show for the first five games, and now for our last five, they’re doing Journey—“Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Any Way You Want It.” It’s crowd-pleasing kind of stuff. And the JV kids are really enjoying it. We didn’t know how it was going to go over, but it turns out that the parents and the students have bought in completely, and it’s making the band more successful.
Halftime: What challenges come with that system?
Mobley: Logistics is most of it, scheduling all those rehearsals, making sure everyone has enough time to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish.
The varsity folks haven’t gotten to perform on Friday night like they have been before, and that’s been an adjustment for the kids. We’ve picked four games where JV performs at halftime and varsity performs after the game.
It’s just a matter of looking ahead and saying, “OK, what are we going to need for this show, how do we get the kids there, do we need extra kids to help out?”
Some of the JV kids work as part of the crew for the varsity band, moving props, things like that. It’s a circus; it really is.
Halftime: What’s your greatest accomplishment?
Mobley: I am most proud of the times that we’ve risen up from disappointment. In 2012, the group went to the Area level of Texas’s University Interscholastic League, which comes after Region. We wanted to move past Area to the State level, and we went up first. It was 7 in the morning, very cold, 30-something degrees, and we didn’t play well. The kids could sense that it was not their best run, and we didn’t advance past Area level. They were so brokenhearted. We still had BOA San Antonio the next weekend, and we ended up coming back from that disappointment and made finals in San Antonio. A great moment of redemption for them. They … blew the house down. I was very, very proud of that.
Halftime: What advice would you give for up-and-coming musicians and directors?
Mobley: [For students,] I think you have to acknowledge that there’s always somebody better. So you start there, recognize that, and then you can spend time in the practice room, spend a lot of time with your lesson teacher and soak up every iota of information that they have to offer, and go back to the practice room some more. And play in as many ensembles as you can.
For directors, you need to make sure you establish a vision for where you want to be, and you might not always go into a situation where you can snap your fingers, and it’s the way you want it. I think it has to be gradual, and it has to flow from where you see the band being in five years, 10 years, and the choices that you make on a regular basis all move in that direction. That’s the best advice I could give.