Payson High School Marching Band drum major John Buskirk had a tough weekend.
First, the senior, who also plays soccer, wrapped up state tournament play with a heartbreaking 4 to 3 loss against Desert Christian.
Then the band failed to place in the top 10 at the state festival, which denied it a chance to compete in the state tournament.
But Buskirk still had pride in what the band accomplished.
“We went to state as the only rural school band to qualify,” he said. “All the other bands came from Flagstaff, Tucson or the Phoenix area.”
The state organization for bands this year changed the judging criteria to judge rural schools, such as Payson, on the same scale as schools with far more students and resources. That made it tougher to qualify for the state festival and much more difficult to reach the coveted top-10 spot.
So Payson ended up competing head to head with schools like Glendale High, with 3,000 students, with a paid band director and paid coaches and consultants for percussion, color guard, music, brass and woodwinds.
Although the judges gave the band an excellent, Buskirk believes the judges must not have liked Payson’s program as much as they have in past years.
Band Director Daria Mason, though, only has pride for her marching band students, who drilled for extra hours outside of school for months.
“It was a great honor. There are 60 bands in our division and only 24 qualified,” said Mason. “I thought the band represented Payson very well and put their heart into it.”
She said every band that competed at state worked their tails off to get there — and Payson was no exception.
Mason had two weeklong-band camps, one the week before school started and one during the fall break. She said she has never done that before.
She also called additional after-school practices above and beyond the normal Tuesday night three-hour practice.
All that hard work paid off in the other competitions.
“The band brought home awards from every competition,” said Mason.
Those awards included the highest scores in general effect, music and percussion, said Mason.
The routine this year was complicated with backward marching, an interesting percussion session with garbage can lids and empty propane tanks, and intricate dance moves. The program also included original music by alumnus Michael Armstrong.
Mason said all of the judges at the state festival had never seen Payson march, except the music judge.
“He said to me, ‘Wow! You have really improved!’” said Mason.
But she believes the band will not go much further without added resources, which is just one of the challenges of living in a small town, she said.
Mason had taken the weekend off to rest after her hectic marching band schedule, but she said the concert season and two marching opportunities lay around the corner.
The band will march in the Pearl Harbor walk in Phoenix on Dec. 7 and the Fiesta Bowl Parade on Dec. 29.
“It’s not like football,” she said, “It just morphs into the next musical adventure.”
For Buskirk, he will march in Europe this year to lead a band through the streets of London as the All-American Drum Major.