For the sixth time in the past seven years, the Desert Vista High School Thunder Marching Band garnered first place at the Arizona State Marching Band Competition.
Under the direction of Josh Thye, Director of Bands and Fine Arts Department Chair, the 152 member Thunder Marching Band wowed the audience and judges at the Nov. 12 competition held at Glendale Community College.
Their show, ANThology, was a nearly nine-minute mesmerizing and magical performance with black-clad band and color guard members mimicking ants emerging from an ant hill and scattering across a field that sported grass sprigs and pouring onto an over-sized red and white checkered table cloth.
The show carried a message of acceptance as another “red ant” appeared, only to be ostracized by the black ant community before eventually being welcomed and included. It was at that point the band’s red uniforms were revealed.
“I think we can all associate with being an outsider, not being included at some point and how it feels when you are finally accepted,” said Thye. “I think we need that kind of understanding, now more than ever.”
This is the Marching Thunder’s second consecutive year as Division 1 Champions.
In 2014, the Marching Thunder broke its four-year run as champions when it came in second to Sandra Day O’Conner High School. In all, Desert Vista has won six of the seven State Championships since the Arizona Band and Orchestra Directors Association (ABODA) organized the event seven years ago.
Last year the band came back strong to regain the title, and at this month’s state competition finished even stronger with an impressive score of 94.875, far surpassing last year’s high of 90.19.
The band also received top scores in four of five caption categories: Percussion, General Effect, Visual Effect and Musical Performance.
“The band had every right to question the show concept. ‘What are we up to? Ants?’ But this group never did. They have so much to be proud of,” said Thye, a Desert Vista alumnus who was hired after graduating from the University of Arizona following the passing of the school’s first band director Eric Holden in 2003.
Thye played trumpet in the band under Holden’s direction.
Zoe Clevinger, the Marching Thunder senior drum major, said she and others were “a little hesitant when we learned the show was about ants but (as Drum Major) I got to see the show from a really cool perspective and I loved seeing the show and the characters within it come alive.”
For parents of freshman twins Teagan and Natalie Schuler, the enthusiasm, dedication and motivation that Thye—“Mr. T” to his charges—inspired was nothing short of astounding.
“The girls had tried various sports and when they said they wanted to do band this year, we couldn’t help but wonder how that would work because we knew the time involved. And yet, Mr. T. was amazing at how he motivated them. They were up at 5 and at practice at 5:45 in the morning,” said Norma Schuler.
The Schulers wondered if the time necessary to be a part of the band was within the realm of their 14-year-old daughters.
Marching Band rehearsals start in June and continue through the summer with a two-week break before pre-band camp and band camp. Once school starts, there are after-school and weekend practices for the band which is an extracurricular activity, though one requiring auditions.
Watching her daughters’ enthusiastic perseverance, even she and her husband Joe soon became motivated.
“We went to every single game, every competition, every championship. We became roadies, unloading the trucks along with our older daughter, Anabelle , a DVHS junior,”she said. “And I found the kids in the band were so kind, so supportive. I didn’t come across one negative experience in the students, the staff, anyone involved in the Marching Thunder.”
“Now I’m really looking forward to the next three years and in fact, I’m kind of grieving that the season is over,” she laughed.
Taylor Rogers, a Desert Vista senior and 2016 Band Council president said competing was a “phenomenal experience.”
“Being able to march this amazing show alongside the best people I know was the most fulfilling end to my four years that anyone could hope for,” said Rogers. “Every single person in the band worked so hard this season and crossing the sideline for the last time with them is something I will not soon forget.”
Drum Line section leader and senior Johnathan Lee said he gained more than just another state championship through the experience.
“It was an amazing feeling to see the end result of our hard work this year. But I’ve heard someone say that if they read you off in first place with a score of 100,000, yet you do not love the person marching next to you, you have missed the entire point of this activity,” he said. “The victory, for me at least, was crossing the finish line as a family.”
Division 1 second and third place winners were Glendale’s Mountain Ridge High School and Highand High School of Gilbert. Division II State Championship winner was Gilbert’s Williams Field High School.
For Thye, this sixth first-place win isn’t just another win, but a memorable one.
“My heart is so full. There are so many things they’ve taught me and those are things I’ll remember a long time. This (championship) is because of them and for them. You have to believe in a ‘why’ and they are the why.”
His own motivation was evinced by the Helen Keller quote sported on student’s and parent’s t-shirts this season: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
To view the winning DVHS Marching Thunder show as presented at the Nov. 11 parent performance, go to YouTube.