It's proven to be a winning combination.

Mix brass, percussion and wind instruments with a captivating score; add a seasoned director and young musicians who rise to a challenge; and then march to victory.

For the 13th time in 16 years, the marching band at Ygnacio Valley High School in Concord placed first among a half-dozen local high school bands at the Twilight Parade during the 75th annual Walnut Festival in Walnut Creek.

They call him Mr. A., and for 27 years, Steve Accatino has been leading the band. The clarinet player has taken groups to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, a first-place win in a parade in Victoria, British Columbia, last spring, and once performing in the New Year's parade in London. The band has performed for five U.S. Presidents.

Missy Nelson, a senior and this year's drum major, also honed her talents playing saxophone with Accatino's jazz band, and credits him for his encouraging, supportive ways.

"He challenges us, but not to an extent that it's too hard to learn," she says.

Conor Boal, a sophomore who plays the snare drum, heeds Accatino's musical advice.

"Everyone really respects what he has to say," he says.

Accatino is concerted in his selection of the music the band plays. For this year's parade, the march heralded from Great Britain, -- "The Standard of St. George," composed by Kenneth Alford in 1930.

"Above everything else, I teach music. I try to adapt a concert band sound to the outside," he says, also noting the need for a piece to have a requisite level of difficulty to offer his students a challenge.

"They go out and perform and have fun. They relax and do what they need to do, and we have success at it," adds Accatino, who marched in the Twilight Parade during his 1960s high school years at Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek.

"He does a great job picking out music that will play well and score well," says band mom Tammi Nelson.

Accatino, the director of instrumental music, has fostered a collegial, familial atmosphere in which the band members appreciate and thrive.

"You learn to love everybody," says Danielle Tortolani, a junior and co-captain of the color guard for the Golden Warriors. "We really come together during the actual marches."

Accatino himself has seen the rewards of his own diligence. In 1995, he was one of 125 people in the United States to be selected to attend a Robert Shaw conducting workshop at New York's Carnegie Hall.

Meanwhile, Morgan Phillips has learned to play clarinet from "Mr. A" since attending Oak Grove Middle School. The YV sophomore recalls how his band director helped him learn the chromatic scale after school and still appreciates Accatino's strict and candid approach.

"He doesn't sugarcoat it. All the kids are there to learn and it all comes together," Morgan says.

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