Westlake High School Band

With its receipt of the 2010 Sudler Shield, the Westlake High School Band joins the elite few who have been recognized for both its marching and concert programs. Long-time director Kerry Taylor talks about his reaction to this achievement.

Photo by Amy Price

In Austin, Texas, the Westlake High School Band marched to greatness and received the 2010 Sudler Shield, which recognizes “high school, youth and international marching bands of world-class excellence.” The Hebron High School Band from Carrollton, Texas, also received the 2010 award.

The 240-member Westlake band has performed in Musicfest Orlando, South Coast Music Festival and Festival Disney, and has won several concert band contests, being named “Best in Class” and “Best Overall.” For 22 years, director Kerry Taylor has built the program to become what it is today.

Halftime: The Sudler Shield is a great honor; what do you think makes your program stand out internationally?

Taylor: Several things come to mind when talking about my program. One is the number of years that we have been successful, both in the marching and concert arenas; another is the quality of our performance throughout that time, again on the field and on the stage; and then the level of performance of the music that we do is of high quality.

Halftime: What is your reaction to being awarded the Sudler Shield?

Taylor: This is a big honor for us. We were fortunate to be named as Sudler Flag winner, which is for concert band, [in 1998]. We realize how unique it is to have both the Flag and the Shield, and we are very honored for being recognized for excellence in both of those. [Only a dozen or so bands have received both awards.]

Halftime: Why do you think you won this particular year?

Taylor: The music content of our show was a creative mix of marches set to different styles. Most of the band directors in the audience enjoyed trying to identify each march that was quoted and anticipated what “treatment” our arranger would apply to each march.

Halftime: Why did you become a band director?

Taylor: I grew up in a family of teachers and was surrounded by music; my father and oldest brother were band directors. [However,] I didn’t really decide I was going to do that until I was a senior in high school. I had set my sights on becoming an acoustical engineer, which would combine my music background with my interest in physics and engineering.

I guess I finally realized that music educator was what I really wanted to spend my life doing.

Halftime: How did you become director at Westlake?

Taylor: I started my career here as assistant director and then I left the area for five years where I became a head director at a school about 150 miles from here. When this position opened up, I applied, and I knew some of the people involved in the search, so I was fortunate to be offered the position.

Halftime: Does your band travel often?

Taylor: We tend to make a trip each year. We just went to Disney in Florida [this year]. We have performed at Carnegie Hall (twice) at a concert festival, at the Midwest Clinic in Chicago as well as the World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles (WASBE) in Cincinnati. One of our most popular performances was in the Tournament of Roses Parade in 2003.

Halftime: How do the marching band and concert band seasons interact?

Taylor: Marching season starts Aug. 1, and we normally go through the first week in November. We try to do some concert-type stuff during marching season. We’ll spend a day or two a week working on that during September and October.

Halftime: What is one of your favorite memories of teaching at Westlake?

Taylor: The joy on kids’ faces when they come off the field after a particularly great performance. [For example,] the state finals UIL [University Interscholastic League] 5-A state competition in 2010; that would be the most recent one. [Also], seeing the students mature and grow from teenagers—and all that is involved in that—to young adults and thinking that our program provides opportunities for that.

Halftime: Is there anything in particular that you hope each of your students learn through your program?

Taylor: Yes, that they learn how to work and respect students with different beliefs and backgrounds, and they learn how to work together toward a common goal.

Halftime: What is something you would like to see for your band in the future?

Taylor: All of us are concerned about budget cuts both in terms of support and staffing and being able to provide equipment and opportunities for those kids. I would like to see that we continue to have that opportunity in our school for our kids.

We’re behind what’s happened to the rest of the nation by a couple of years, so everybody is concerned about how how deeply it is going to impact us.

Our state funding system is developed every two years. The last time was spring of 2009, and at that time the general economic downswing had not yet impacted Texas to a great extent. Things have changed, and the state is in a “downsizing” mode with all services— including education. In my school district, although we will have to share in the general tightening of budgets, I feel that the arts are very well protected by administration and community alike.

Halftime: Could you briefly describe the marching environment in Texas. Why is marching band so important there, and how do the schools and the state reflect that importance? Why do you think both 2010 Sudler Shield winners came from Texas?

Taylor: Marching bands (and concert bands!) are an important part of the Texas public education system for several reasons:

1. We are a vital part of the community and are visible at nearly every Friday night football game.

2. The strength of the University Interscholastic League, which governs most music competitions.

3. Music education is part of the state curriculum.

4. There is a strong fine arts/music coalition in the state, led by the Texas Music Educators Association.

5. Our band directors are very supportive of each other and usually do not hesitate to share instructional knowledge, yet they remain competitive in a system that rewards achievement.

Halftime: What advice do you have for students and young instructors?

Taylor: Find as many opportunities to perform and teach as possible and ask questions from your mentors as often as you can.

About the Author

Lydia Ness is a visual journalism student at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif. 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 and focus on international and global justice.

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