Bands from USD 443 packed the house Tuesday night at the Dodge City Civic Center.

The district's annual Band-o-Rama highlighted the talents of some 658 band students from Dodge City and Comanche Middle Schools as well as Dodge City High School. At least 3,000 people filled the civic center to the roof to watch the performance.

The Band-o-Rama event corrals every district music student from sixth to twelfth grade onto the floor of the civic center. The performance featured two songs from each middle school grade as well as jazz bands that are a combination of the middle school and high school. The final number of the night featured all of the bands in a mass performance.

The concert gives relatives and friends in attendance the chance to hear the progression of the band students through their time in the program. Performances started with the sixth grade band playing songs composed of eighth notes, and led to the full Dodge City High School Concert Band playing upper-level pieces.

"The coolest thing about it is that you really get a cool presentation of how the kids improve from year to year," Dodge City High School Band Director Jason Richins said.

Jacob Miller, jazz band director, said the students get excited for the opportunity to play in a large environment.

"They get pretty psyched-up," Miller said. "Especially once it's go-time. We try to make it more exciting every year."

Miller said the timing of the concert is a big reason performers put out extra effort. This is the first opportunity for band members to dress more formally and have their talents showcased.

"It's a busy time of year," he said. "It's right before they're ready to check out for spring break and be done with activities for a while. They definitely turn on the switch right now when they see all the people."

Massing all the band students in the district requires several hours of set-up and coordinating six different band directors and musical choices. The DCHS band is about halfway through its festival season and the concert coming just prior to spring break gives members a boost into the remainder of the season.

"It's a little stressful but they enjoy it because this is the only time of the year that our whole program is together," Richins said. "This is a very low-key, fun performance."

The program gives encouragement to the younger students who get to see where their efforts could take them, and the funner, more complex music they'll have the opportunity to play. Richins said bringing the district's entire band program together for Band-o-Rama is also a recruiting tool.

"The sixth graders get to hear the high school kids and say 'In four years that's going to be me, that's what I'll sound like,'" Richins said.

Richins expressed appreciation for the dedication USD 443 administrators have shown to band students by furnishing many of the often very expensive instruments. He had every student who plays a district-owned instrument stand and the vast majority of the performers rose to their feet.

"That's not something you find in most school districts," Richins told the audience.

The seventh and eighth grade bands are coming off last week's MSWAC Music Festival at Comanche Middle School, where bands from middle schools across western Kansas performed. All four middle school bands received top ratings. Richins said the ratings aren't as important as the accomplishment of simply playing well in a festival with other schools.

"They walked away from their performances really happy," Richins said.

He said the high school season is going well and, as always, the students are putting out the effort to be successful.

"It's a little more stressful for them," Richins said. "It takes a lot more individual practice time and rehearsals are more intense."

Miller said the older performers know that their participation in Band-o-Rama gives a lot of encouragement to the younger musicians.

"We had a nice discussion with the high school kids about how much an event like this means to the younger kids," Miller said. "They're looking across the room and know they get to be in those seats next year and wear a tux or a nice concert dress. It's really exciting for them to look ahead as a band student. They see it gets more exciting as time goes on."

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