Westminster High band named regional champ

The Owls best 17 schools in 5 states in competition

October 28, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

On only their second trip to a national Bands of America competition, the Westminster High School Owls marching band beat out 17 other schools from five states last weekend to win a regional championship in Bridgeport, Conn.

Performing a routine that traced the common workplace occurrence of a computer system crash, the Owls were the first band in Maryland to capture championship medallions at one of the 14 regional competitions held annually by Bands of America, said Chuck Henson, a spokesman with the Indianapolis-based nonprofit group.

"Each regional is an individual championship in and of itself. Because we're a national organization, what has happened over time is that the regional and national events have become quite the cream of the crop with the bands that participate," Henson said. "By winning the Bridgeport regional, Westminster has placed itself on the map nationally as a program with a really fine educational music program."

Last year, Westminster High placed third at a BOA regional and became the first Maryland band to win the Atlantic Coast Championship in a different circuit called the Tournament of Bands, band leaders said.

Under the supervision of band directors Mark Lortz and Brian Drake and senior drum major Kim Leidy, who conducts the group on the field, Westminster put together a show that musically and visually tells the story of a computer that breaks down, must be rebooted and returns to working condition.

"Sometimes bands just pick music that's cool and make drills and do their show that way," Drake said. "We wanted a theme that was something the average person would understand on a basic level. Most everyone uses computers and has been frustrated from time to time when they turn on the computer and it doesn't do what it's supposed to do."

Using painted tarps and yellow flags with the recognizable error symbol of an exclamation point in a triangle, the 100 band members, including 25 color guard performers, transform the field into a computer circuit board. The band, Drake said, "serves as the current" running through the computer circuits in four phases: connection, virus, error and recovery.

Henson said that Westminster's championship was all the more impressive because the band did not win the preliminary round in its size class or the overall contest, placing third in both.

"It was quite the coup," he said. "They made quite a jump to win the finals."

Even the students knew they had not put forth their best effort in the first round of competition on Saturday morning.

"We just had a pretty sub-par prelims performance," said Fritz Kranz, 17, a senior tuba player. "That just told us what we needed to do for that night. We just went out there and did it. It was fantastic. It was a shock."

Besides the overall championship, the band won awards for Outstanding Visual Performance and Outstanding General Effect, a category that Drake described as "things that make the crowd oooh and ahhh." Westminster missed the Outstanding Musical Performance award by 0.05 point, he said.

Westminster will not be making the trip next month to the Bands of America grand national championship in Indianapolis, an event unrelated to the regionals in which 90 high school bands compete over three days. Estimating that bus and hotel costs for the band would exceed $20,000, Drake said the trip is simply unaffordable.

Bringing home the regional trophies and medallions, band members and directors said, was reward enough for a grueling training season that began in May, when the directors distributed the music for the fall show, and continued through 10-hour summer rehearsal sessions. The band performs at every home football game and an array of competitions through mid-November.

"It's a lot of work," Kranz said "But all the work is well worth it when you get weekends like the one we had."

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