A small Bowie band emerged with top ratings in UIL at the Marching Competition in the fall and Concert and Sight Reading Competition last month – the first time in more than a decade the band earned a First Division rating.
This performance by the Bears is another sign that the Bowie High School Band is experiencing a sort of renaissance that is bringing back a storied tradition of having outstanding music programs at the South Side school.
“The Bowie Band under Jasmine Torres’ leadership and vision has been able to accomplish some amazing things in just a short period of time,” said Michael Phillips, director of Fine Arts. “Ms. Torres does not see a small number of students as a detriment but as a positive. Every student is held to a high standard of accountability.”
It’s then quite appropriate that students sometimes play the “Rocky” theme song on their own before band class: “Trying hard now…Getting strong now…Won’t be long now.”
“Last year, there was a lot of improvement,” Torres said. “We were definitely taking our first steps to putting us on the map, but we weren’t quite there.”
In the fall of 2014, the band had 19 students – most with little to no music experience – and a brand new director one year out of graduating from UTEP. Torres’ first steps were to institute systems to give the program more structure and a true chance for success.
“It made going into this year easier,” she said. “The kids knew what to expect and what was expected of them. They came back improved.”
Students could feel the higher expectations set by their band director and fell in line. Today, the band has 26 members. In marching season a flag corps was added, boosting the band to 30 members.
“I see us growing bigger and becoming more successful,” said sophomore Kevin Nino, who had limited experience playing the baritone last year when he joined the band. “We’ve progressed a lot because of the help of Miss Torres.”
Freshman Alexis Chavez, a clarinet player, was leery about joining the band at first, but Torres helped convince her to try it.
“It’s worth not getting the extra hour of sleep to come in everyday,” Chavez said.
Just like Nino and Chavez, band members are committed to their craft and see the gains the band has made in the short time they have been involved..
“We are the heart of the school,” Nino said. “We have the most pride.”
He especially likes the band’s job of cheering on their team during football season. “We’re helping our team to win when we are on the field,” he said.
Their commitment to learning and improving in the band room is obvious.
“The kids have a lot more pride because they know exactly where they started and the behind-the-scenes to get here,” Torres said. “It takes a committed student to be here at 6:30 a.m. every morning. They know all those sacrifices meant something. They stand a lot taller.”
Principal Michael Warmack beams with pride talking about the Bowie band.
“Getting the students into band was just the first step,” he said. “Ms. Torres has also worked hard with students throughout the year preparing them for competitions. Add to this, several of our alumni associations have also come through with donations which enabled us to hire band-techs, mostly college students, to work with our students in small groups.”
The band techs have helped refine the students talent on their individual instruments.
“Most of our students are not financially able to take private lessons and the extra help they receive at school makes a huge difference in their confidence, ability, and sound,” Warmack said.
Warmack’s goal for Bowie is to have 100 percent of the student body participate in an extra curricular activity such as band.
“Engaged students are better students academically and they are better students in terms of discipline,” he said. “They bring a pride back to Bowie that will make future students want to attend Bowie High School. We hope to continue the growth and success next year.”
Music and instruments are the tools to any band class but teaching work ethic is key to building the band.
“Our circumstances don’t mean anything,” Torres said. “Yes, there are limits but not excuses. You need insane, relentless work ethic.”
Torres has already seen this “insane, relentless work ethic” in her students.
“They’ve become more passionate, more proactive, more desiring to help,” she said. “What I see in them makes me really proud that band has been a tool to teach them this. I’m humbled to be their teacher. They have taught me more than they realize.”