Tuneup for a showdown Bands: After many weeks of practice, high school bands from South Carolina to New York will compete today for regional titles and a chance to go to Scranton, Pa., for the Atlantic Coast Championships.

November 01, 1997|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

On the field outside Atholton High School in Columbia this week, Henry Mesias, a member of the Raiders Marching Band, shouldered a tuba and marched in curving patterns, in step with the other 100 musicians, color guard members and clowns.

Some of his band-mates stumbled while lugging trombones. The color guard did one-legged jumps holding silk flags. Drummers sidestepped to sonorous trumpets and saxophones, marching with confidence.

The band has spent 10 hours every week since summer going over its show, note by note, step by step, in preparation for the Tournament of Bands, which pulls together thousands of students from the East Coast today.

From South Carolina to New York, high school bands compete for regional titles and for spots in the Atlantic Coast Championships Nov. 9 in Scranton, Pa.

It's the time when tuba, euphonium and xylophone players get to outshine quarterbacks and get to break out of halftime %o constraints, turning a football field into a Broadway stage and becoming the heroes of the day.

Today at South Hagerstown High School, 24 bands from Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia will blow, drum and twirl their hearts out for a panel of judges. An additional 39 bands will compete at Seaford High School in Seaford, Del.

"We've been doing really good lately," said Mesias, 15, a sophomore from Laurel who is about twice as tall as the small-scale tuba he plays. "A lot of the bands have really good shows, and as you go on in the season, everybody improves more and more, and that just adds to the excitement."

His school came in 13th out of 24 bands in its division last year.

He doesn't plan for that to happen today, Henry said.

The Atholton show, which includes "Shenandoah" and "Taps," lasts nine minutes and 40 seconds, which is 20 seconds less than the maximum allowed. "The music is longer than the other years, so it took us longer to get the show down, but everyone pretty much has it down," Henry said.

The band includes brass, woodwinds and marching percussion. The heavier percussion instruments -- such as tympani, marimba and xylophone -- remain stationary in the "pit" in front of the stands. Then there are the color guard, better known as the silks, and the "Widgets," who wear clown costumes and pull pranks during the show.

The band will leave the school at 2: 15 p.m. today. Members will change into their green-and-white uniforms during the 90-minute bus ride. They will have nearly three hours to warm up, stretch and tune. Show time is 6: 30 p.m.

The production must last seven to 10 minutes, and the band must clear the field in two minutes. Otherwise, penalties are assessed.

"You have to be quick. We set up the other day in two minutes and 57 seconds," said Lee Stevens, Atholton's band director.

The judges listen for quality of playing, watch for alignment in the drills and award points for degree of difficulty.

During rehearsal this week, Stevens stood with a headset and megaphone yelling, "Please get your step a little bit higher. If you're supposed to be in high step, some of you are missing it by about 5 inches!"

At Severna Park High School in Anne Arundel County, students were getting ready for a 10: 51 p.m. call in Seaford, said R. Thomas Powell, the music director.

"They're out to do the best job they can possibly do, and if they're lucky we can beat the team that beat us last year," he said. In 1996, the band was second to Caesar Rodney High School of Dover, Del.

"This is a pretty exciting tournament," said clarinetist Lisa Birkenheuer, 17, vice president of Severna Park's 155-member band. Her band will form shark fins, squares, diamonds and circles while playing its selections, which will include "Armenian Fanfare" and "Russian Sailor's Dance."

The 79 members of the Lion's Pride Marching Band at Liberty High School in southern Carroll County will perform "Trittico for Bands," a contemporary work by Vaclav Nelhybel.

Thursday afternoon, they were fine-tuning their show.

"We're really nervous, because we got third last year and we really want to regain our ranking," said color guard captain Brandy Ward, 16, whose band has came in first 11 of the past 12 years.

For some students, it isn't winning or losing that counts; it's topping their own scores from previous competitions.

"We don't really care about the trophy," said Mark Lukenich, 15, a sophomore who plays trombone at Atholton, "just the score and how well we did. We can learn from our mistakes, and it'll be cleaner than before."

Pub Date: 11/01/97

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