MacKenzie McCulloch just made history. The Woodrow Wilson High School senior became the first student since 1986 to make the Texas 5A All-State Band after placing first in the area-level competition in trumpet. Fellow senior Evelyn Pate also performed and was one spot away from making All-State Band in French horn.

“It is a really big deal, and it’s been a long time,” Woodrow Wilson band director Chris Evetts said. “Both [McCulloch and Pate] came up through the feeder system at Woodrow and J. L. Long [Middle School], and they were outstanding kids right from the start in their instruments. We achieved a lot of group success because of them.”

Making All-State Band is a long and complicated process. Evetts describes it as “practically impossible.” The Texas Music Educators Association, which hosts the All-State Band auditions, divides the state into eight areas and 33 regions. Players must advance from regional competitions to area competitions to make the state band, and tryouts at each stage get harder and harder.

In McCulloch’s case, she was one of about 80 trumpet players who showed up for the Region 20 band tryouts, which covers 10 school districts and a large swath of area around Dallas. At the tryout, each player had to perform the same three songs before a panel of blind judges, who scored each performance from zero to 100. The scores were added and used to rank the players from top to bottom. McCulloch and Pate advanced to the 5A Area Wind Ensemble, and McCulloch was ranked first coming out of the All-Region audition.

The area and school districts in TMEA’s Region 20.

At the All-Area audition, the process starts over. The players had to perform three different songs before judges, and only the top one or two advanced to the All-State Band. 

“[McCulloch] was first at region and first at area, which is awesome,” Evetts said. “I was hoping she would make it, but to be first is awesome.”

With that placement, McCulloch advanced to the All-State Band, the first time for an individual player from Woodrow in nearly 35 years. Pate just missed the cutoff for All-State in French horn by placing second at the All-Area audition.

“It was a heartbreaker for [Pate]. She had it tougher because there’s not as many that they take,” Evetts said. “For [McCulloch] there were 20 trumpets at area and two advanced to state, but in French horn, 14 advanced to area, and [Pate] came in second chair. They take one to state.”

It’s a near miss for Pate, but Evetts said both should be commended for their accomplishments. Pate and McCulloch made it to the All-Area audition for the past three years. 

“The two of them accomplished this on their own. I might have listened and helped them here and there, but it was their tremendous work ethic and natural talent,” Evetts said. “[By making the 5A All-State Band] you’ve achieved the highest honor that a high school bandman can make in this country, and I’m not even exaggerating.”

Due to the pandemic, the high-level clinics and concerts that the All-State Band would attend and play are happening virtually this year. Evetts said that TMEA is organizing an online clinic, “which will feature a lot of big names in music.”