It’s safe to say that quality isn’t based simply on quantity.

While the Houston High School Tiger Pride Marching Band might have only 38 musicians in the fold this school year (which is significantly fewer than some years), band director Sam Van Dielen thinks the kids who are involved comprise a pretty special group.

“I think they’re tight,” Van Dielen said. “I think they’re musically very in sync and their personalities mesh well together. I think it’s really lovely in some ways to have a smaller group – especially in our place and our environment here – because we know everyone who’s here is choosing to be here and they all really want to contribute in some way and see themselves grow.

It’s a smaller group, but they’re all high quality people and hard workers, and that translates into the work we do.”


“It’s a smaller group, but they’re all high quality people and hard workers, and that translates into the work we do.”

Van Dielen, 25, is a St. Louis native who is in his second year as Houston Schools band director. Before coming to Houston, he lived in Springfield for six years and worked with marching bands at Glendale and Branson high schools.

“I had the opportunity and privilege to meet a lot of other band directors and see inside of their programs before eventually landing the position here,” he said.

Sam Van Dielen is in his second year as Houston Schools band director.

During this year’s halftime shows at HHS football games and at other events and competitions, the band will perform a show predominantly made up of music with a Latin flare titled, “El Sueno Espanol” (which basically translates into “Spanish Dream”). All of the music will be original pieces written by renowned marching band music composer Michael J. Miller.

“Michael Miller has been involved in drum and bugle corps activity for a long time – long enough to know these sounds from the ’80s and ’90s first hand,” Van Dielen said.

The Tiger Pride band’s show will be about 7 ½ minutes long and feature five movements, with much of it resembling the sounds of Latin-styled pop music from the 1980s and ’90s.

“And all of it happens continuously,” Van Dielen said.

Last year, the Houston hosted only one football game due to COVID-19.

“That was unique, and it wasn’t what we expected,” Van Dielen said. “But we tried to make the best of not having the extra responsibilities but still working on high quality music.”

Members of the HHS Tiger Pride Marching Band practice marching backward during a band camp session last week. DOUG DAVISON | HOUSTON HERALD

The HHS band did develop a show consisting of trumpet superstar Chuck Mangione, and earned a 1 rating at festival in April at the annual Missouri Small Schools Band Directors Association (MSSBDA) festival at Willow Springs. That was the first top rating earned by and HHS band in seven years.

This year, the HHS football squad has five scheduled home games, beginning this week.

“With that many opportunities to perform halftime shows,” Van Dielen said, “it will feel much more like an ordinary marching season.”

Two of the band’s experience seniors, Devon Sawyer and Austin Blankenship, are each pleased and impressed by this year’s ensemble’s overall potential, and by the contribution of the numerous underclassmen.

“I really love how things have been going so far,” Sawyer said. “I’d say this is the best group we’ve had in general. Mr. V and the drill, or show, are great and all the new kids are great to be around. We’re just so productive, and we still have fun.”

Members of the HHS Tiger Pride Marching Band practice during a band camp session last week. DOUG DAVISON | HOUSTON HERALD

“The group is young overall and has a lot of room to grow,” Blankenship said, “but they’re fantastic. I’m proud of everyone; the young ones are learning fast, and that’s partially due to Mr. V – he’s a great teacher.

“And there’s such great chemistry. Everyone is friends, and that helps a lot.”

The band has a trip to Nashville scheduled for April, which will include a performance. Van Dielen and Co. will also compete in festivals Oct. 10 at Petosi, Oct. 17 at Branson and Oct. 23 at Reeds Spring, and they hope to make another appearance at the MSSBDA event.

The band performed this year’s show for the public at a fundraising event last Friday next to Hiett Gymnasium.

“I want to thank everyone for all the support we’ve received over the last year,” Van Dielen said, “especially during this time of transition and as we deal with COVID and its implications. Please don’t stop supporting the band and make sure to get out to our home games and shout and cheer for these kids because they’ve been putting in a lot of work.

Van Dielen said the band will conduct a car wash fundraiser sometime in mid-September. More information can be found online at the Houston Tiger Pride Band’s Facebook page.

“Keep your eye on us,” Van Dielen said, “because we’re going to continue along the path we’ve carved for ourselves over the past year.”

Led by Houston Schools band director Sam Van Dielen, members of the HHS Tiger Pride Marching Band practice last week inside the band room adjacent to Hiett Gymnasium. DOUG DAVISON | HOUSTON HERALD Credit: FILE PHOTO


(name, grade)


Devon Sawyer (12)

Color Guard:

Nalih Applegate (9)

Miah Bressie (10)

Colleen Martin (11)

Kaytlin Morgan-Flowers (10)

MJ Bratt (11)


Hope Blair (12)

Hayden Riggs (9)

Dezarae Owens (10)

Ben Steelman (9)


Laken Peede (8)

Hunter Swingle (11)

Aubrey Crockett (11)

Alto Sax:

Lee Skaggs (10)

Tenor Sax:

Zander Scholz (11)


Nick Washko (12)

Austin Blankenship (12)

Tyler Lawson (11)

Stone Jackson (10)

Andrew Rife (8)


Owen Swingle (10)


Hunter Whiting (12)


James Talavera (12)

Ethan Neal (12)

Max Bittle (11)

Ian Young (10)

Brody Adkison (9)


Levi McConnell (10)


Nicholas “Red” Cope (11)

Brysen Frisbee (10)

Chris Swallow (9)

Paul Kimrey (9)

William Barton (9)

Front Ensemble:

Andy Durham (11)

Kayhle Richards (9)

Carl Fitzgerald (11)

Director: Sam Van Dielen

Doug Davison

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Contact him by phone at 417-967-2000 or by email at

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