Members of the HHS Tiger Pride Band gather prior to performing during the high school basketball state championships in march of this year at JQH Arena in Springfield. Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO

The 2021-2022 school year was a time for the Houston High School Tiger Pride Band.

It was also a time of significant growth.

“We’ve had so much happen this year,” said Houston Schools band director Sam Van Dielen. “This is a great time for us.”

Van Dielen has been at the helm of Houston Band for two years now. The Tiger Pride Marching Band had what he called a “breakthrough” season in marching competitions last fall.

“And we had unparalleled participation in concert band and jazz band, as well as in the middle school program,” Van Dielen said. “They’re all really growing.”

Nine Houston students qualified for the annual University of Missouri – Kansas City Honor Band this school year.

“That probably the biggest representation they had outside of Kansas City,” Van Dielen said.

Three HHS band members made the District Band and eight made the South Central Association Conference Band, while senior Devon Sawyer made the All-State Band for the third straight year, qualifying in bass clarinet.

“That’s an incredible individual accolade for him,” Van Dielen said. “We strive to give our students the kind of exposure he’s getting.”

Led by Houston Schools band director Sam Van Dielen, members of the HHS Tiger Pride Band practice inside the band room adjacent to Hiett Gymnasium.

After submitting video of performances, the HHS Band was one of a handful selected to play at Missouri State High School Activities Association Class 4 and 5 basketball state championship games at JQH Arena in Springfield in March.

“That was a great honor for our kids,” Van Dielen said. “When students do things like play at JQH, or at a Springfield Cardinals game like we do each fall, they’re getting a taste of what it’s like to fit into somebody else’s production. That’s one of the sort of real-life, marketable experiences that we’re trying to get for our kids.”

Van Dielen and the band members attended a competition in Nashville, Tenn., this spring and placed first in the concert band category.

Through donations from local businesses, organizations and individuals, the HHS Band raised about $26,000 this school year. The funds go toward many things, like the trip, equipment upgrades and repairs, band member uniforms and much more.

This year, the HHS band consisted of about 30 students. Van Dielen expects more than 50 to be on the field during halftime of the first HHS football game late this summer. Van Dielen said several additions are hoped for as the 2022-2023 school year begins, including (but not limited to) a big new equipment trailer, a new tuba and a new marimba. He said the school district budgets about $4,500 per school year for the band, and while that’s very welcome, it only goes so far.

“We’ve had tremendous involvement and generosity from the community,” Van Dielen said. “But as we see this growth, it begs more resources so we can continue to provide for the kids. We’re always looking for the public to help us with ways of doing that and we’d love to nurture even more involvement from the community.

“We really want to limit the number of obstacles as best as we can.”

The band’s halftime program this fall will be entitled, “A Place I Know,” and will feature an Ozarks-related theme. It will also consist of custom-written music.

“We’re taking the opportunity with this marching show to sort of write a love letter to the Ozarks,” Van Dielen said.

The Band will perform the show in competitions at band festivals this October in Warsaw, Branson and Reeds Spring.

“The goal is to take the product to those places and show audiences something that’s also relevant to them,” Van Dielen said. “We’re going to have a lot of fun doing that.”

Van Dielen said this year’s band program in Houston will feature about 45 newcomers, including numerous sixth-graders and several middle school kids.

The annual HHS Band Camp is set for the first two weeks of August. It will culminate with a “community night” on Friday, Aug. 19, during which the public can become familiar with the band’s lineup and sound, and enjoy an “ice cream social” event at the same time.

“We would love to have a lot of people come out and enjoy that night with us,” Van Dielen said.

The HHS Jazz Band will perform beginning at 7:30 p.m. this Friday (May 20) at Big Rock Candy Mountain Resort at Jadwin. Van Dielen said the group will be joined by a pair of accomplished musicians: Saxophonist Jacob Jamison (a friend of Van Dielen’s who offers clinics and lessons) and Devon Hughes (a keyboard player for multiple “funk” bands and a percussion instructor at Logan-Rogersville High School).

“It’s going to be a good time for everybody,” Van Dielen said.

Information about the HHS Band is available on Facebook at Houston R-1 Bands.

“The kids this year have been absolute rock stars,” Van Dielen said. “Cool things are happening, our numbers are growing, and I feel like nothing but good things lie ahead.”

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 ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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