Leander band forging friendships outside of Friday night performances


Before the football camps even open, trudging along on the scolding hot asphalt in front of Leander High School, director Robert Selaiden instructs more than 300 kids to march around from dot to dot.

The students aren't playing instruments yet. Some aren't holding them. Even as volunteers on the sideline seem uncomfortable while looking any bit of shade, every member of the Leander Band is smiling.

While they're getting ready for a lot more than just performances on Friday nights and helping to energize the crowds at football games, band students are athletes as much as anyone who straps on a helmet and cleats every Friday night.

"Marching band wouldn't exist if it weren't for football," Selaiden said. "What we do and the involvement of where that comes from totally comes from halftime. It wasn't a competitive thing for a long time, and it all evolved from that. We're constantly trying to find ways to support the football team. That's where everything goes first for us on Friday nights."

Selaiden has been the band director at Leander for five years, and this will be his 12th year since taking a job, his first and only, with the school right after graduating from the University of Texas in 2008.

Leander principal Chris Simpson has been pushing for more camaraderie between student organizations, and the band, as the largest group, has a big role in that effort. About 15 percent of the school are band members.

Selaiden said the second new Leander football coach Kris Price walked into his office for the first time he was asking what he could do to support the band better.

"From the in-game portion of it, a band that understands how football is played and when they should be playing loud and when they should chill out and let the game happen absolutely has a role," Price said. "Our band is one of the best in the state of Texas, and it's nice that they really want to support us playing football as well."

Senior drum major Ethan Nance had two older siblings that were in the band, and it seemed like the cool thing to do. Junior Brooke Schroeder saw another drum major during her time in middle school that she wanted to emulate.

And the lessons they've learned since joining go far beyond reading music.

"This program challenges you the most as an individual," Nance said. "If you like to put yourself out there as an individual. While this is a marching band, more than half what we learn are life lessons. If you make a leadership camp, we have a whole week on how to be a great leader."

The performances can get as intense as a triple-overtime football game.

Schroeder recalled a time at the area competition when Leander was in third place after the preliminary round. Only the top three teams go to state. Selaiden announced to the group straight forward what the situation was and what they needed to do.

"That was a wake-up call for everybody in the band," Schroeder said. "We assumed we were good, but we actually have to work hard to get to where we have to be. I think a lot of people underestimate how challenging it is. It's hard to put your feet in time to the metronome and play music and be in formations and work outside and then come inside and work more."

There are plenty of UIL-sanctioned rules each band must follow. Beginning the fourth Monday in August, the band is limited to eight hours of outside rehearsal per week (they get one extra hour before a football performance).

Growing up in the Dallas area, Selaiden knew about the Leander band before he even went to Texas. The concert band won the state honor band contest in 1994, and the marching band traveled to the Rose Parade in 1999.

As the Austin area started to grow and Leander ISD started to expand, there was a dip in the competitive side of things.

The first time the Lions came back onto the scene was in 2014 when they finished in third place in San Antonio Bands of America Super Regional. The next year, they won the Austin regional and were third in the state contest.

This last year, in 2018, Leander finished fifth at the state marching contest.

Leander isn't the only LISD program to have recent success. Cedar Park has been dominating at the Class 5A level for the last few years, while Vista Ridge is the defending 6A state champions. Vandegrift was third, and Leander was fifth in the same competition.

"Four us, we have four full-time band directors at the school and a full-time color guard director," Selaiden said. "We get new uniforms every seven years and new instruments pretty frequently."

The parents have just as much of an impact, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars every season. Last year, the Leander Band fall fundraiser raised $108,000, which Selaiden said covers most of the budget for the year.

He said the camaraderie of the band director community within the school district is incredible. They are the people he hangs out with on weekends and goes on vacation with outside of the competitive environment.

"We want to win things, it feels great when you win," Selaiden said. "But if we are relying on winning being the successful part of what we do and the trophy being part of that, we're going toe disappointed more often than not."

There are plenty of reasons to join the marching band: Maybe it's important to get involved with a group or learn to play music. Or possibly just getting into football games for free and traveling around the state and country is intriguing.

"It's cool when you see people that walk in the door, and they're totally shy and incapable of communicating develop over four years and become these strong human beings when they leave here," Selaiden said. "We're constantly talking about life skills, and to see it come to fruition is really special to see the growth of the student. The tool of music and band is just used to develop people."

But making new friends is a guarantee.

"The drum majors are four of my best friends, and I wouldn't have met them if I wasn't in the band," Nance said. "Everyone else in the band, there are like 300 of my best friends that I'm around every single day, and it's awesome to be alongside them."

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