ANTIOCH -- Like music to their ears, members of the Deer Valley High School band marched to the award podium an abundance of times this season.
At the Delta Band Review, the Wolverine Marching Band snagged four awards; in Elk Grove, two; at the Santa Cruz review, one; in Lodi, two prizes; and at a recent parade in Oakland, yet another.
Director and Deer Valley teacher Larry Widener is keeping humble with humor.
"We are not exactly taking over the world, but we are definitely moving in the right direction."
But he's rightly happy with the scores, which have been "considerably higher than in recent years. My section leaders work them pretty hard."
Along with Widener, Brittany Bennett guides as Color Guard director, and John Shoemaker is the percussion instructor.
Widener, though, said the real news here is Zach Spaulding, the "amazing" drum major, who's strutted away with an award at every event.
"He's only a junior," Widener said. "He's very talented. He plays any instrument I ask him to.
"He's beaten students with many more years of experience and much more private training. Not only that, but he is a confident leader and a great conductor."
In his third year of marching band, this is Spaulding's first year as drum major.
He's been involved in music since he was in second grade, with his first band experience as a trumpet-playing fourth-grader.
Since then, he's learned to play the French horn, trombone, euphonium, piano, percussion and "recently attempted to tackle baritone saxophone."
Spaulding said there are countless exciting "and beneficial aspects of participating in band."
"The music is always an amazing part, and being able to do what I love and improve on what I do. But, in marching band, specifically, the most enjoyable parts are the people and atmosphere. We are all working together, striving toward a common goal to perform our best.
"I've made so many close friends, and I am really thankful for that."
The junior said Widener has taught him and the others myriad music-related topics -- from history to mics to random tidbits.
"He's also taught us how to treat each other (in band and in) everyday life ... (helping) us live in a happier and more comfortable environment."
Spaulding credits the three instructors for the band's winning season, but "also the determination of the band members has resulted in better scores as well." Beyond the awards, Widener is proud his students are involved in a variety of activities, including leadership, sports, choir, dance, drama and clubs.
And he truly enjoys his students playing local events, "especially Veterans Day and Memorial Day. I think these are very important for our community and crucial that our youth be involved."
In addition to the marching band, Widener also directs the school's jazz ensemble, the percussion ensemble and the Dozier-Libbey High orchestra.
At Deer Valley since it opened 17 years ago, Widener has a foundation of winning. As a Pittsburg High student, his band director was the well-respected and beloved Orrin Cross.
"I was one of Orrin's kids. I took from him the desire to be entertaining and to plan ahead for anything and everything," said the 1980 PHS grad.
"There is never just one big thing. This job is like juggling honey badgers."
Now that the marching band season is over, the group is preparing for its annual fundraiser -- a crab feed/tri-tip dinner on Feb. 2 at the Antioch fairgrounds. Tickets are $45 call. For more information, call 925-756-6788.
Contact Trine Gallegos at firstname.lastname@example.org