Last Friday, South Carroll High School's Marching Band proudly promenaded down the streets of Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and helped Dolly Parton open the Dollywood theme park's 1994 season.
The gala two-mile parade, which had an audience four and five people deep, was one of several competitions involving band members from South Carroll High School during a recent trip. Band director Brad Collins said South Carroll was one of eight marching bands in the parade.
The band's trip included competitions for Concert Band, Jazz Band, Field Show and Drumline. The contests were sponsored by Festival Inc. of Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge, said Mr. Collins.
"People get the idea that it's a vacation trip," he said. "The kids probably had four or five hours when they could say all they did were fun things."
The trip began with a post-midnight bus trek to Tennessee on April 21 and ended four days later with family members gathering in Winfield to cheer the band's return. In between were hectic hours of practices and performances, with periodic pauses for food, sleep and fun.
"The kids were under immense pressure performing in areas where no one [knew] them . . . and under very different conditions," said Mr. Collins. "The kids took it very seriously, and that explains why they did so well."
The Tennessee trip was a milestone for Mr. Collins, a former Cavalier instrumentalist who has been band director at his alma mater for the past nine years.
"It's taken me four years to move up to performing in the music five levels of difficulty," he explained. "Level six is the hardest music for high school."
"Symphonic Suite," a level five composition by Clifton Williams, was part of the concert band's performance. Mr. Collins said he targeted the piece as a goal for his band to master about seven years ago. The piece allows each musician to see what his or her importance is to the band.
"It features each section, each player," he said. "Now, my goal is to handle level six music in two years."
The timing and location of extended, out-of-state band trips are selected with great care. The band's last big trip was to Florida, four years ago.
"Trips of this magnitude are designed to test your music on a higher grade level," said Mr. Collins.
Like the annual district festival, these competitions are judged by college music professors.
"By doing well in District Festival and the Gatlinburg trip, it shows our kids accepted the challenge and are doing well," Mr. Collins said.
He said he appreciated the support of parents and music personnel who helped make the trip a reality.
The trip's finale was an awards banquet at the Dixie Stampede on Saturday evening. There band members were treated to a finger-lickin' dinner of chicken and ribs -- served without utensils -- and a rodeo show. Band members also had a few hours to visit Dollywood before the awards dinner.
South Carroll High School's band members won first-place trophies in the Jazz Band and Field Show competitions, and awards for Best Drumline and Best Drum Major. They won second-place trophies for parade and concert band performances.
In parade competition, the drummers received the Best Drumline award and a superior rating by scoring 99 out of a possible 100 points.
This score was "unfathomable," said senior Jon Mentzell. He said the drumline's explosive cadence is its signature and is something that "turns heads."
In fact, when the drummers were practicing with assistant band director Larry Dick, they caught the eye of Dolly Parton. Jon said she drove past the drumline before the parade started.
"She rolled down her window and told Larry not to work us too hard," he said. "He did."
"It was a pretty good trip," Jon said. "Every time we picked up a drum, we won. It was great for the drumline."
"It was a lot of fun," said ninth-grader Kim Chase, who plays clarinet. "I want to major in music, so I'm hoping to get all the music experience I can.
"I think it boosts your confidence when you go to other states and get a chance to compete against different people. It gives you a lot of pride in your band."
Fans of South Carroll High School's spectacular spring musicals will be able to enjoy the Stagelighters' production of "Guys and Dolls" on May 6-7, and an Italian dinner before the show.
The school's Key Club will hold its third annual spaghetti dinner prior to the Friday and Saturday performances from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the school's dining room. The last seating of patrons for the dinner will be at 6:40 p.m., said Key Club faculty adviser Cindy Perouty-Byrne.
Piles of steaming pasta with savory sauce and meatballs, crisp garden salads and crusty hunks of Italian bread will be served by Key Club members and volunteers from the group's "K" family, the Mount Airy Kiwanis Club. Ms. Perouty-Byrne said many of the ingredients for the authentic Italian feast will come from La Strada in Westminster.