Gonzales High School band director Dennis Boucher has set his goals high for the Apache Marching Band.
Boucher is convinced his charges have enough talent and discipline to challenge for a state title in November. It also doesn't hurt that he has brought on board one of the nation's most respected music arrangers.
Peter (Pete) Lengyel of Atlanta is truly one of the giants on the genre, having worked with over 280 high school bands in 23 different states. He and Boucher have had a working relationship that was first developed when Boucher was teaching at Killeen High School.
"When I was an assistant at Weslaco High School, the band at Weslaco East did a show that Peter had written called "Fiddler On The Roof," Boucher recalled. "When I went to Killeen, I called him up to purchase that show and after that he started coming out and working with me. He kept working with me while I was at Killeen and then again when I was working in Houston."
Lengyel said Boucher approached him about performing a patriotic show for this year and the two began working on the project this summer. The show opens with "Here's To America," written by a member of the Army Ground Forces Band; and also includes "God Bless the USA" and Neil Diamond's "America."
"His music is very good," said Boucher. "He's one of the top-knotch marching band arrangers in the country."
"Not only that, but he pioneered a lot of the marching band stuff that's being done. Marching band is something he gets a lot of credit for, but actually his jazz band arranging is really good as well."
Music has been a major part of Lengyel's life almost from the very start. He started playing piano in the fourth grade and was in band all throughout high school and college.
In 1968, he became the band director at a high school in New Jersey and soon discovered his affinity for the work.
"I absolutely loved it," he said. "I took over a program that had bottomed out. We were able to turn it around, but then I decided to go to grad school because I wanted to be a college teacher."
While serving as a graduate assistant with the Indiana University Marching Hundred, Lengyel was teaching as an associate professor in music theory. He took over his first collegiate program when he was hired by Eastfield College in Dallas at the tender age of 24. He stayed for 10 years before moving on to the University of Texas-Arlington, where he taught for four more years.
Lengyel's prowess and expertise earned him numerous accolades and teaching awards, but he never lost his desire to perform.
"The whole time I was teaching I was writing and composing," he said. "I finally decided that I wanted to write full time, so I started doing that in 1985."
Playing woodwinds professionally, Lengyel was also playing piano about 200 times a year. During his career he has worked with several show business legends including Broadway great Chita Rivera, comedian Flip Wilson, actress Angela Landsbury and singer Melissa Manchester.
"Every week I was doing piano conducting in one of those resort hotels in the Catskills," he said. "For that era, these people were the regulars on the Tonight Show and the Ed Sullivan Show."
In 2000, Lengyel's biography was added to the International Who's Who's In Popular Music. He is one of only 5,000 people worldwide to receive the honor.
Boucher said he prefers to use Lengyel not only because of his extensive knowledge, but also because of his desire to work students hands-on.
"He's not the type of writer who will just send you the stuff in the mail and you never hear from him again until the next year," explained Boucher. "He evaluates the recordings, he'll listen to the band and make decisions as to what to write in order to put us in the best position to be competitive."
Lengyel was in town all last week helping the band prepare for this weekend's upcoming contest.
"It's real fun to play his pieces," said drum major Jordan Holmes. "They're well arranged and they fit together really well. His music gives us a good chance of going on and maybe compete for state this year."
"He wrote the music so obviously he knows what he's talking about," added drum major Mary Liz Menking. "It's been great having him around."
The band will be in Giddings on Saturday, where they hope to garner a First Division finish for their efforts.
"We won't be competing against other bands, we'll be competing against a standard," said Boucher.
All the bands who receive a First Division will advance to the area round on Oct. 23 at Waco Midway High School. The event is a head-to-head competition between bands from the area south of Dallas, down to Gonzales and over to Houston. The preliminaries will take place in the morning, with the top ten qualifying bands playing in the finals that night.
When asked about Gonzales' chances of reaching their lofty goal, Lengyel expressed his confidence in their abilities.
"I was expecting them to be a lot better than when I saw them last year, but they exceeded my expectations," he said. "I knew Dennis was going to make them a lot better, but they were much better than I expected."
"I know that there has been a past track record of excellence in the history of the school, but I think before Dennis came the program was not on as high a level as it had been in years past. Dennis has turned that completely around. I couldn't be more pleased about how they're doing and I know they're going to have a lot of success this year."