Bell High's small band scores elusive ‘superior' at state contest

Members of the Bell Junior/Senior High School concert band pause for a photo before the state Music Performance Assessment last week. For the second time in school history, the band earned a rating of 'superior,' the highest possible rating. (Courtesy photo)

Published: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 5:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 5:13 p.m.

After seven years of playing clarinet in the Bell Junior/Senior High School Concert Band, senior Tyler Cutts will graduate on a high note.


Here's how other schools fared in the Florida Music Performance Assessment:

Buchholz High School Symphonic Band - superior

Buchholz High School Wind Symphony - superior

Eastside High School Concert Band - excellent

Santa Fe High School Symphonic Band - excellent

Union County High School Symphonic Band - excellent

That’s because the 35-member band earned a “superior” rating at the state band competition for only the second time in school history. The first “superior” at state — the highest rating at the competition — came in 2002.

“It feels amazing,” said Cutts, 18. “I am so proud of these kids. To be able to accomplish something like that at this school, at that kind of level is just extraordinary.”

Bell, in Gilchrist County, was the smallest school to earn the highest rating, with about 700 students in grades six through 12.

“We’re so small that we’re allowed to use middle school students” in the high school ensemble, band director Chris Dunn said, although he took only high school students this time.

The students Dunn took last week to the state Music Performance Assessment at Flagler Palm Coast High School were the best of the best, he said.

Bands can earn a rating of superior, excellent, good, fair or poor at the competition. Earning a superior is most difficult in the concert category, Cutts said.

“If you get one note wrong, (the judges) can hear that,” he said. Compared with the marching band category, Cutts said student musicians need more technique and finesse to score highest marks in the concert category.

Bell’s band has been chasing the elusive superior rating at state ever since former band director Kelly Dorsey left the school after its first such achievement.

“I think it’s just been a lack of motivation,” said Shyne VanTassell, a 16-year-old sophomore who has been playing flute and piccolo since eighth grade.

Dunn, now in his second year as band director, knows how to motivate the band, VanTassell said.

But the band director credited those who came before them.

The students were already good musicians when he arrived, he said. “We just really fine-tuned.”

Especially in the last year, after the school lost a talented group of seniors, Dunn said, the group focused hard on the details.

How to balance as a band, how to listen to each other and how to be more musical — all of those factors matter in a performance, he said.

Tenor saxophone player Cody Smith has been to many competitions before the state competition last week, but never with Bell’s full band.

He said the feeling of playing with the whole ensemble made the experience special for him.

“There are so many things that could go wrong, but everybody just kind of comes together and everybody does their part,” said Smith, a 17-year-old junior. “It feels really good.”

Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or

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