William Mason High School

As a recent winner of the Sudler Shield, Mason (Ohio) High School has reached a new level of success.

Photo by Ken Martinson/Marching.com

When the William Mason High School (MHS) marching band from Mason, Ohio, received the 2011 Sudler Shield in a ceremony this past May, it became one of only 14 schools to be awarded both the Sudler Shield and the Sudler Flag of Honor (for concert band). Both awards recognize high school, youth and international bands of world-class excellence. Mason also made finals at Bands of America Grand Nationals for the first time in the fall of 2011. Director of Bands Robert Bass has constructed a comprehensive culture of excellence in instrumental music, and his efforts have brought on national accolades.

Halftime: Tell us about yourself, your music background and your relationship with Mason High School.

Bass: This is my 28th year of teaching. I completed my undergraduate work at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music with a bachelor’s of music education and music performance. I earned my master’s degree at VanderCook College of Music. Originally, I wanted to perform in a military band, but my experiences at UC and in the community fostered a love of teaching children and marching band.

Mason presented the best opportunity for [my wife, Susan, and I] as educators and for [our son] Andrew as a student. I began in 1999, and Susan followed the year after to build the Mason Middle School band program. Andrew graduated last year from MHS, and music has been part of our whole family. He hasn’t ever missed a Bands of America Grand Nationals finals. He was in our arms when he attended his first Grand Nationals in 1995. Now he’s studying music at the New England Conservatory of Music. We’re flying him into Indianapolis this November for Grand Nationals, so that he won’t miss it … that will be 18 straight!

Halftime: How did previous achievements/ experiences shape your role at Mason?

Bass: In my first position, I found out that woodwind and percussion methods courses were not enough, and in order to educate students at a high level, I had to take private lessons on the instruments that I wasn’t comfortable with—flute, clarinet, saxophone—to be a better teacher.

I learned that working with people can be quite challenging. Working with the football coach my first year didn’t go very well. I learned through conflict how to handle situations better, so I’d say it was a “people skill” sort of year for me.

Halftime: How has the band program evolved in the Mason district in your 13 years?

Bass: When I first came to Mason, in grades 6 through high school, we had six different bands and 76 kids involved in marching band. Now, we have 16 bands and 276 students in the marching band. Our administration was unbelievably supportive through this endeavor. We grew from three music teachers to seven in a period of six years. Currently, we have more than 1,100 students involved in the instrumental band program.

All the band directors are invested in the program, grades 6 through 12, and we all work together to create a cohesive curriculum. We all attend every performance of every group, regardless of grade level. It is through the support and dedication of each staff member— and one of our mottos, “Everybody, all the time”—that we have developed this Mason Band program.

Halftime: What are some of your favorite moments throughout your career?

Bass: Having a former student at Fairborn (Ohio) accept a position here in Mason and watching him grow as a musician and teacher … seeing that little boy turn into a young man and become one of the finest educators around.

I definitely have a few highlights— winning the 2010 Pontiac Regional and making finals at Grand Nationals for the first time last year. Anytime you do anything for the first time is unbelievably special. It was especially meaningful because it was our son’s senior year. Since he has attended Grand Nationals every year for his entire life, his personal goal was always to march on the field in finals. After our band’s finals performance, I raced down to the field, found Andrew, and we both walked off the field for the last time together. It was a moment I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life.

Halftime: How does it feel to be one of 14 bands to receive both the Sudler Flag and Shield?

Bass: While I am so honored to receive these awards, it’s just a product of what we do. We’re very fortunate and privileged to have received both awards. I felt such pride watching our staff and students when these awards were received. There was so much joy, which just enhances making music. The one thing I teach kids—and I say this nearly every day—“Let’s sit down and make music!”

Halftime: What is the most rewarding aspect of being a music director?

Bass: I’m proud of the family atmosphere that has evolved in our band program. Our program is made up of band families, not just band students. The amazing support of our parents and the hard work and dedication from students, parents and staff are so rewarding because when a new goal is reached, it is a celebration for all of us—including former band families—to share together.

Halftime: What’s in store for the future at Mason?

Bass: We’ll continue doing what we do. We are facing new and different challenges in the state of Ohio with budget cuts and reduction in force. But through advocacy, we want to work hard to maintain the quality program we currently have.

About the Author

Samantha Berley graduated with honors from California State University, Northridge, with a bachelor’s degree in English and a strong passion for anything musical. As a teenager, Samantha ate, slept and played music for seven years through concert and marching band. While she still enjoys favorite corps, she is currently finding new ways to combine all of her passions through writing.

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