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Lions Club band takes top honors

Two young musicians from the Brookhaven High School Band can nowcall themselves world champions after competing as members of the2009 Mississippi Lions All-State Band and winning first place atthe Lions Club International band competition last week.

BHS senior John Calcote, 17, and junior Astasha Henderson, 16,marched with the state’s all-star band down the streets ofMinneapolis last Tuesday, taking part in the 145-member band’s 26thchampionship by overwhelming the judges, the competition and eventhe crowd.

“All you heard was people screaming, ‘Mississippi!'” Hendersonsaid. “Everyone was on their feet, and they were trying to takepictures with us when we stopped. They knew us from the past.”

With Calcote sliding away on his trombone and Hendersonproviding the low notes on her bass clarinet, the Mississippi bandperformed nearly flawlessly in the competitive parade performance,tallying a final score of more than 96 points and defeating thesecond place band by 10 points – a huge margin of victory inmusical competition, where winners and losers are often decided bytenths of a point.

Henderson said the judges were standing up and waiting for theband to arrive, a testament to its reputation. Afterward, she saidone of the judges told the band on his critique tape he and hispeers had given up trying to score the band halfway through theperformance and simply stood up, clapped and took in the show.

“He said he didn’t think he’d be able to hear again,” Hendersonsaid. “We were loud, and with a good sound.”

Calcote, however, didn’t have to wait for the tapes. He said heknew the competition was over as his band turned away, fired up thedrum cadence and marched to the parade’s end.

“I said, ‘Oh yeah, we won – hands down. There’s no competition,that was it,'” he recalled. “I could hear everybody playing behindme while we were marching back. I knew we had it.”

Major victories like the Mississippi band earned last weekaren’t given away. Calcote and Henderson endured a long week ofpractice – the winning show music and drill were learned fromscratch in only a few days time – followed by several exhibitionperformances and a 900-mile bus ride to Minnesota.

Beginning Monday, June 29, the band practiced the many facets ofcreating a quality marching show from 6:30 a.m. until 10:30 p.m.daily. Members were required to have the show music memorizedbefore arriving at the weeklong camp.

The band’s winning journey began with a concert a Jones CountyJunior College in Ellisville on Friday, July 3, and moved the nextmorning to another concert at Pearl High School at 11 a.m. The bandwas in Oxford to play in the Grove by 5 p.m., and departed fromthere to Minneapolis.

Upon arrival at their practice stations at a local high schoolin Minneapolis, a quick reconnaissance of the competition arearevealed the city streets to be too narrow. Calcote said the entiredrill – a week’s work – had to be changed on the spot.

The international competition took place last Tuesday, withjudges inspecting the band’s formation, grading its musicalperformance and reviewing the motions of the color guard, dancersand drum major. Later that night, before the young performers weremade aware of their victory, head band director Jeff Cannon tookthe opportunity to put one over on his students and kick off thecelebration.

“Our band director came in and psyched us out,” Henderson said.”We thought we had second (place). He started crying, and he saidhe would hate to tell a band like us we came in second. Everyonestarted crying because we thought we won second. Then, he said,’I’m glad I don’t have to tell y’all that.’ Everyone screamed,jumped up and down, hugged him and ran around.”

The big victory for the students and state was the result ofgritty personal effort, Henderson said.

“These kids, they don’t play like they’re in high school,” shesaid. “They’re dedicated to what they do. These kids … want todo, and do better, and succeed in everything they do and see otherssucceed in what they do. They give to be giving – the don’t takeand receive.”

Being a part of the winning effort is a great feeling, Calcotesaid.

“Just to know I’m in a group that won something this big, it’samazing,” he said. “To be in the Mississippi All-State Lions Bandis a very big thing.”

BHS Band Director Clay Whittington compared the all-state band’svictory to winning a gold medal at the Olympics, and said his staffwill encourage all Brookhaven student-musicians to try out in thefuture.

“It pushes students to excel,” he said. “Competition, of course,is always something that’s good, even in musicianship. We’reextremely proud of (Calcote and Henderson). They worked very hard,and there was a lot of competition for those positions. Thosestudents reported back to me that they’ve had an excellent time,worked with outstanding instructors … and made new friendshipswith students from across Mississippi.”