There are 55 trophies neatly aligned on six shelves in the gymnasium at Arthur Slade Regional Catholic School in Glen Burnie, testimony to the efforts and excellence of the school's band members.
For all but three of the past 12 years, Arthur Slade's advanced band has been named the "outstanding Catholic elementary school band" in the country by the National Catholic Bandmasters Association. And the members are working hard to keep that record intact.
Every Thursday, they rehearse in the school gym for 1 1/2 hours to perfect two pieces they will record in April to send to the bandmasters' association at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., for evaluation. Also, each member practices almost every night after school.
Collectively, it comes to more than 225 hours a week of practice for the sixth- , seventh- and eighth-graders.
"The kids have worked very hard building everything up to where things are now," said James Wesley Osment, Arthur Slade's band director for 16 years. "I don't call it a tradition of winning. I call it a tradition of excellence."
Band members know Mr. Osment has high expectations.
"In the beginning of the year, he's very laid-back. But when it comes to February and March, he's really pushing to get ready for competition," said Kellie Schiavone, 13, who plays oboe in the advanced band.
On a recent Thursday, the band members left book bags, coats and instrument cases scattered on the gym floor as they gathered for practice. Their voices echoed through the gymnasium until the moment Mr. Osment stepped onto the podium at midcourt and raised his baton.
The students fell silent. Soon the room filled with the sounds of clarinets, saxophones, flutes, trumpets, trombones, tubas and drums, as the young musicians rehearsed the "Royal Fireworks Music" of George Frideric Handel and "His Honor" by Henry Fillmore, the pieces they plan to record for the Catholic schools contest.
Mr. Osment said that he learned after three years when his band failed to take the top prize that "if you're going to play a hard piece, you're going to have to play it well."
The band, which competes in archdiocesan and regional contests and performs concerts at malls, is making its recordings for the April evaluation in the gymnasium where the members rehearse.
The competitions give the students "a feeling of achieving something," Mr. Osment said.
"When they're getting a little antsy or whatever," he said, "I tell them, 'Do you realize you're the outstanding Catholic school in the country, not Glen Burnie?' It usually gets through."