The Broken Arrow (Okla.) band won its second Bands of America Grand National Championships, having been a serious contender since its surprise win in 2006. Find out how the band has achieved this level of excellence from the director who has seen the band evolve through several decades.
Photo by Ken Martinson/Marching.com
From student to director, Darrin Davis has watched the Broken Arrow (Okla.) band program grow and develop over the past several decades. Traditions remain, uniting generations of Broken Arrow performers, but they do not restrain the organization from modifying and changing each year. The success of the program was most recently highlighted when The Pride of Broken Arrow won the 2011 Bands of America (BOA) Grand National Championships.
Halftime: Tell us about your experience with the Broken Arrow band.
Davis: I am a graduate of Broken Arrow High School, and it’s the only job I’ve ever had; I’ve been here 19 years. I started at the intermediate high school and gradually worked my way up through the ranks to the position I have today. It gives me an interesting perspective. I’ve been able to appreciate the tradition and history of the program, from when I was a performing member in the high school band, and I am really proud to see it grow to the level that it is now.
Halftime: Describe some of the history.
Davis: The program was much more of a marching band focused program for many years, and through efforts in the late ’80s and ’90s, the program began to place more emphasis on the concert band. We removed marching band from the curricular school day in 1993, which was my first year at Broken Arrow. Marching band is now an extracurricular activity, and it is volunteer-based.
Halftime: How does the program’s past influence your students today?
Davis: I think creating high expectations for students to perform at a high level is definitely a mainstay throughout the years, but being able to celebrate your history and create traditions that will last longer than a four-year cycle of a student in high school is something that we take to heart. For example, we have our pride creed that we say at the end of every performance. We see if alumni from a year ago or 20 years ago want to come and be a part of saying the creed with us. At our Oklahoma state championship, there is probably the biggest gathering of our alumni that we will see. They know that at the end of the day, we will all say the creed together, and this creed binds us across multiple generations.
Halftime: Tell us about BOA.
Davis: This is our second Grand National Championship; the first was in 2006. We have consistently been in the top six … in 2006 we were first, and the next two years we were sixth, last year we were second, and this year we were first. The 2006 championship was definitely what propelled us into more national light. The year before, in 2005, we were not even Grand National finalists, so we kind of came out of nowhere and surprised a lot of people.
Halftime: What happened in 2006 that made this shift in the program?
Davis: There were a couple of changes we made in the design structure, and there was a strong commitment from our staff and students that we were going to do everything in our power to be as strong of a band as we could be at Nationals, hoping to be a finalist. When we made finals, we really felt as though we achieved what we set out to do, not really knowing that we had a chance to win it all.
Halftime: What was a memorable moment from this marching season?
Davis: We were fortunate to take our students out of class one day to rehearse indoors the Monday before Grand Nationals. Even though we didn’t have the show finished, and we were still teaching drill, still developing the end of the show, it was one of the first times as a staff we looked at each other, and we thought, “You know, this has potential to be really good.”
From that day forward, without us even mentioning it to the students, you could tell that they knew it too. So the ownership was at a higher level than I have ever seen during my time here at Broken Arrow, and that carried through the last week of the season. It was pretty unforgettable.
Halftime: Was there anything unique about this group of students that distinguished it from prior years?
Davis: During the rehearsals we had in Indy, it was remarkable (almost scary), to see how hard the students worked. There was never a sense that we were done; every night we were there, they took it as an opportunity to get better, and I have never seen a band of mine improve in the way they did the last week of the season. We watched a video of the week before Grand Nationals and the week of, and it is like two totally different bands. That is what I’ll always remember from this season, even more than the Championship, how much we grew in the last week.
Halftime: What do you hope students learn through your program?
Davis: We want to create great experiences for our students that last a lifetime. It may be the musical experience they get with our program, but [I believe] the sense of community that the students receive will be what the students remember long after what place we got at a band contest. They’ll remember the process that they endured, more than the result of what it was. Now, I guarantee none of these students will forget being a Grand National Champion, but the experiences along the way is what keeps them coming back every year.
About the Author
Lydia Ness is a senior journalism student at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., with experience in visual, print, broadcast and public relations. She has performed in the Glassmen, the Bluecoats and The Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps as well as the Riverside Community College indoor percussion ensemble. She teaches the front ensemble at Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo, Calif. Lydia plans to go to law school in fall 2012 and focus on international justice.