It takes a hometown to raise a band

By Phil Major
Posted 11/11/21

A state championship in any high school activity starts and ends with the students.

“They’re the best,” Mineola High School band director Chris Brannan said after the Sound of the Swarm marching band came back from San Antonio last week with its third consecutive championship.

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It takes a hometown to raise a band


A state championship in any high school activity starts and ends with the students.

“They’re the best,” Mineola High School band director Chris Brannan said after the Sound of the Swarm marching band came back from San Antonio last week with its third consecutive championship.

“They’re the best students in the school. They work very hard. They’re very focused on goals,” he said. And they take their responsibility to the program seriously.

He said it has been a journey to reach those heights since he arrived in 2013.

Brannan said the potential was always here for Mineola students to excel in a music program, they just needed a little direction.

That first year the band achieved a first division rating at the regional marching contest for the first time in a long time.

From there the band won the area championship and advanced to the state championship in 2015, bringing home the bronze medal.

The band has a great support system.

The band parents have been unbelievable, Brannan said. “They’ve done everything this year.”

They built all the props for the half-time show, “Hometown,” which was all done from scratch. There was no pre-packaged show, it all had to be created – the large photos of historic downtown buildings, benches,  replicas of the period lights and gazebo downtown, all the other props  and costumes.

Then they all had to be moved, set up and taken down each time.

And as drum major Maddie Tucker noted, the band had incredible support at every performance.

Brannan said having a good team to carry out the band program is another key element.

Much like a football coaching staff with coordinators for offense, defense and special teams, each has a role to play – percussion, woodwinds, color guard, brass, and bringing along the junior high program that will transition to the high school level.

When Brannan arrived, the middle school band had not been participating in UIL competition for 10 years. Their first year they earned a first division rating, and within four years they were the state honor band.

“It was just untapped potential,” Brannan said.

Some of those middle schoolers get to participate with the high school program.

They serve as “roadies,” helping to move equipment.

This year three played in the percussion “pit” that fronts the performance.

Lead vocalist Amedea D’Angelo also played that role last year as an 8th grader and was part of the supporting cast as a 7th grader.

Senior Gabby Wolf, the brass captain, brought home her third state gold medal after serving as a roadie in 8th grade, and Trinity Kolo marched as an 8th grader and will also be earning her third state ring.

The band is still moving into its new band hall, constructed over the summer. A few delays in receiving materials pushed back the opening, and the final piece – acoustical panels – arrived and were installed while the band was in San Antonio.

Things don’t slow down for the band after the state finals.

They will be performing for the Mineola football playoff game Friday and again Saturday at the Veterans Parade. And they will continue to follow the football team as long as its winning ways continue.

And the coming months bring non-stop activities: individual region and area tryouts for the all-state band, the Christmas concert, students learning their solo and ensemble pieces for UIL competition and the spring concert and sight reading contest, which forms two-thirds of the triad that allows bands to earn the sweepstakes award, coupled with their marching performance.

Mineola put on a unique halftime show.

Brannan said he was sitting on the couch listening to music and the idea of home popped into his head. He extrapolated that to hometown.

With all the negatives brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, home was a concept that was brought to the forefront. People had to stay home much of the time.

Brannan noted the Sound of the Swarm did not slow down throughout COVID.

The UIL actually lessened the rigor of its 2020-21 programs due to the challenges of the pandemic. But Mineola did not pull back. It still performed a full marching show and contest music at the same high levels of past years.

The 2020 show, which was during a non-advancement year for state, featured the disco era.

That show was so good, Brannan said, that his fellow directors told him he should have saved it for a state advancement year.

Little did they know.

Brannan said the 2020 show is among his favorites. It was enjoyable, the kids had fun, the crowds loved it, it featured bright colors and great music.

The world was a mess and that was a bright spot, he said.

Then came 2021 and the show that has set a high benchmark for Mineola and for Conference 3A bands.

The complex show required the various elements to be layered in through the course of the season. Brannan noted only so many new things can be added at a time.

Elements continued to be added right up through the final rehearsal in Mineola the Monday before the state contest.

One hallmark of the show is what Tucker described as the “wall of sound.”

At several points during the show the entire ensemble hits several measures at top volume.

“It makes me smile every time I hear it,” Tucker said.

Brannan noted that sound doesn’t just happen, “You have to practice big sound,” he said.

One reason it reverberates –  every student on the field is playing. Not all bands do that.

Tucker said from the first strains in July to the finals, it has been crazy. She enjoyed seeing how confident her fellow band mates became.

There was a lot of pressure at state, she explained. But once the band performed in the preliminary round, she said she knew they could do it.

Having the crowd and community support has been exciting and encouraging, she said.

And the compliments on the show have made her feel like a proud mom.

The show continued to improve throughout the season, culminating with a solid performance in the finals.

“It just got better and better,” she said.