When Clark Middle School band kids get together, they come to play. They come to play their instruments, but also to learn and grow as people.
The Cougar band philosophy of making music fun and developing a sense of responsibility and family pays off – in the music and for students.
The program was recognized as the 2014 Texas Middle School 2C Honor Band, the highest honor a middle school band can achieve in the state of Texas. Over the years, Clark band directors have been recognized by the Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA) for their contributions to band. The program has been honored by the Foundation for Music Education as a national Mark of Excellence winner, received numerous “Outstanding Band of the Day” awards at the Peak Music Festival and accumulated a decade’s worth of UIL Sweepstakes awards. Hundreds of students have been selected to All-Region band and earned Superior ratings on their solo or ensemble.
Now, the honors culminate with the 2016 John Philip Sousa Foundation Sudler Cup, a prestigious national award recognizing excellence over a period of several years.
Clark Middle School is the first FISD campus to receive the award. The number of recipients nationwide has ranged from zero schools to four schools annually since the Cup’s introduction in 1985.
“This award is a huge honor and puts Clark in an exclusive group of top middle school bands from across the country,” said FISD Assistant Fine Arts Director Preston Hazzard. “It’s also different from many of the awards Frisco ISD programs have won in the past. Instead of being a competitive contest where you send one recording of the band during a certain year, this award looks at breadth and depth – the entire scope of the program, not just one particular performance or part of the program.”
The Cougar band is led by Director Ben Katz, who has been at Clark for 11 years and led the program for ten. Assistant Directors John Timpani and Scott Kennedy joined the program in 2010 and 2012, respectively. Dr. Rob Parks and Arjuna Contreras assist with percussion, splitting their time between Lebanon Trail High School and LTHS feeder middle schools, including Clark. Together, they are an integral part of the students’ combined success.
“We make it fun,” Mr. Katz said, describing the culture of the Clark program. He compares the process of building a band program to preparing a stew.
“Over time the separate ingredients simmer and cook together to create a delicious collection of flavors,” he said.
The Clark Middle School band obviously passes the taste test with the judges at the Sousa Foundation.
Applying for the award was a long and difficult process. But after reviewing the requirements and recognizing the selection committee was comprised of top band directors from across the country, Clark directors were enthusiastic about the daunting task of creating a portfolio worthy of the award.
Mr. Katz compiled seven years of documentation, awards and articles, including one that was featured by the TMEA in 2015 and described Clark’s philosophy of making music education fun. For example, Clark does not hold traditional chair tests or rankings.
“We focus on being nice to each other and downplay competition. We want them to work because they enjoy it, and they do!” Mr. Timpani said.
The experience the directors bring to the band hall is also a big part of the program’s success, with their combined more than 50 years in music education. Clark band students, current, past and present, are all part of a big family. It isn’t unusual to have siblings roll through the band year after year, Mr. Kennedy noted. The Clark philosophy is an extension of that sense of family. It works because of the rapport the directors have built with their students and families.
In May, the John Philip Sousa Foundation will send a representative to formally present the Sudler Cup during a community concert at Stonebriar Community Church. Everyone, including Clark band alumni, is invited to celebrate and enjoy student performances. Mr. Katz and his team are busy working out details for the event, which is the first of its kind in Frisco ISD and reflects the level of the District’s dedication to fine arts over the last several years.
Knowing the Clark way, it is sure to be a fun time for all.