Jhe steady beats of a metronome echoed through the concert hall of Victoria West High School.
The students’ feet were beating to the beat. The band – the school wind ensemble – played their music under the close scrutiny of band manager Shaka Hawkins until finally Hawkins turned off the metronome and stopped playing.
The band manager asked the students to play a short section of music over and over, hitting different notes. Once the students had completed this section, Hawkins once again led them through the longer room until he had heard enough.
“I’ll give you a minute to look at some of these things,” he said. “To go.”
At that moment, the band room erupted into a raucous wall of sound as the students flipped through their sheet music and played different sections of the song that confused them.
As the rest of the group practiced, 18-year-old Jacob Fuentez said: “It’s a lot of dedication and training, time and energy, but so worth it.”
While the practice and hard work is worth it for students, it’s also worth it for the Victoria School District, which was named one of 2022’s Best Communities for Music Education.
The title was awarded to the district by the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation. Hawkins said he believed the district earned the honor because it provided many opportunities for music education with qualified instructors.
School music students also have ample opportunity to perform in the community both alone and as part of school bands, said David Edge, district fine arts director.
“It’s a national award,” Edge said. “It’s a long process of asking a number of questions about what kind of musical activities are in the community, what our school district offers from kindergarten through high school and how many kids are involved, what they are doing within the community and the financial support of the district.
The Victoria Independent School District is one of 738 districts nationwide to win the award. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are 19,254 school districts in the United States, making the Victoria School District only among 3.8% of districts to receive this honor.
Hawkins believed the award was given because of the wealth of opportunities available to students in Victoria for music education.
“We allow our students multiple opportunities to participate in the arts, whether it’s band, dance, choir, arts, orchestra – all these different things,” he said.
The district is blessed with a community that supports the arts, he said, and they have quality teachers leading every department.
Right in the band area at Victoria West High School, there are marching, wind ensemble, symphonic, concert and jazz bands, Hawkins said.
Every elementary school in the district has a certified kindergarten through fifth grade music teacher, Edge said. At the middle school level, the district offers a band, orchestra, and choir.
“All of these programs are building blocks, just like athletics or anything else,” he said. “They start the program there and then continue to high school.”
Madyson Sebby, 17, a member of Victoria West’s wind ensemble group, said she joined the group in seventh grade and credits her instructors for her current success.
“They sat down with me and worked with me to get me to a place where I could be successful in music,” she said. “It became like a safe space for me to have something good to focus all my energy on.”
Those experiences didn’t continue until Madyson hit high school, she said.
“Especially for making friends with old people, it helped you not only with your music, but if you needed help in school, help with lessons, they are always there to support you” , she said. “It really made me realize the importance of music in this organization.”
Music education is effective in developing minds, Edge said.
“The state demands that everyone be part of fine art, because fine art changes children’s brains to be able to read better, to understand things better,” he said. “It’s a perfect place for kids to be creative.”
In addition to improving creativity and learning skills, music education can help students develop life skills, Hawkins said.
“We’re very demanding,” Hawkins said. “But at the same time, it teaches them more than they realize. It teaches them to take responsibility and be effective in what they do.
The school district’s music programs are very active in the community, Edge said. Students participate in community music groups like the Civic Choir, Community Jazz and Concert Bands, Community Orchestra, and Victoria College Music Programs.
“It’s good to see the full range of ages from high school all the way to adulthood,” Edge said. “And they’re all there for the same reason, enjoying music on their instrument or their voice.”
Fuentez said he performed for the Special Olympics as part of the band and took part in benefits throughout the community.
District programs have also inspired students to continue to keep music in their lives after graduation.
Madyson said that while she’s still debating playing in the band at Sam Houston State University this fall, she wouldn’t give up on music at all.
“It’s a big part of my heart that I could never let go of,” she said.
Fuentez, meanwhile, said he will be studying music education at Texas A&M University-Kingsville this fall.
“I’m already looking for a career by becoming a director myself,” he said.
There is a chance that he will also end up in Victoria in this role.
Edge said a number of teachers in the district have taken their music programs over the years.
“Patti Welder’s band manager came through Victoria East High School,” he said. “Grew up in Victoria, went to college, came back and is now a teacher.”