Vista Ridge band earns Sudler Shield for marching excellence


With the graduation ceremonies in the rearview mirror and summer officially underway, most folks are heading to their favorite vacation spot for a little rest and relaxation in celebration of a busy year. But for the high school band students, summer marks the beginning of a new marching band season, bringing long hours practicing music, marching, discipline and precision.

Summertime also promises new friendships with the shared opportunity to achieve great successes, make lasting memories and, of course, the pride of getting to try on that crisp marching uniform whether it be for the first time or the last.

What sets the Vista Ridge marching band apart is that this year will provide an opportunity for a fourth consecutive nomination for for the prestigious Sudler Shield, award by the John Philip Sousa Foundation. The Ranger band was nominated three straight years, and earned the award in the 2017-18 school year. 

The award is endowed by Louis and Virginia Sudler and recognizes outstanding high school marching bands. The John Philip Sousa Foundation is a non-profit foundation and, according to its mission statement, is “dedicated to the promotion of international understanding through the medium of band music.”

Marching band was a passionate endeavor for more than 250 Vista Ridge students last year, with members of the band performing an Iditarod-themed show paced with exciting snippets of native Alaskan music and drill that mimicked the race’s treacherous terrain. Band members, old and new, share in the excitement of joining a prestigious, hard-working group of fellow classmates under the direction instructor Bryan Christian, who has taught marching band for the last thirteen years.

“I don’t think there’s any other activity that teaches so many great life skills,” said Christian. “The kids make very close relationships with one another and so do the parents. Everyone’s working together so it’s an incredibly family-oriented activity.”

Christian originally hails from Lampasas. He began his teaching career in Birdville Independent School District as associate director of bands at Richland High School. After spending eight years at Richland, he was selected as the first director of bands at the then-new Stony Point High School in Round Rock. Christian spent four years at Stony Point before moving to Leander ISD to open Vista Ridge High School, where he has been director of bands for the last thirteen years.

Two other area schools have a Sudler Shield in their trophy case — Round Rock High School in 2014 and Cedar Park High School in 2006.

For Eric Chen, a former drum major and clarinetist for the Rangers, band was about enjoying experiences with his friends and improving himself as a person.

“My favorite things about band were not only going through the season alongside my friends but also working on becoming the person I wanted to be,” said the eighteen-year-old. “The combination of those two things is what made band so special to me.”

Chen will attend Texas Technical University in the fall of 2018 with a focus on Music Education. He advises newcomers to the band to be brave and try something new.

“We’re always inside our own heads and we make ourselves anxious and stressed when we do something new,” said Chen. “Don’t let your life be run on fear. It’s all about being willing to get outside your comfort zone and take healthy risks. Whether it’s a good or a bad outcome, you will have the chance to apply what you’ve learned in life.”

The UIL hosts regional, area and statewide competitions for divisions to compete in on off years. Divisions 2A, 4A and 6A perform together one year, and divisions 1A, 3A and 5A perform together another.

With a rotation of every other year to compete in a statewide competition, the Rangers finished at the state competition in 2013 and fourth in 2015 before moving up to Class 6A. The Rangers are will compete at the UIL state meet again this year.

“My favorite thing about being a director is that I get to develop and model healthy relationships with students and their parents,” Christian said. “I think it’s really cool how to model perseverance and getting through tough times to kids to help them become stronger and build character. The band really becomes another family to you and I think that’s really special.”

The Rangers new marching show for 2018 is called “Lost and Found” and will feature 285 members. Band camp will begin July 30.

LISD also hosts the Festival of Bands which will be Oct. 1 this year. The event will feature LISD high school marching bands in and auxiliaries in exhibition marching performances.