Season ends on a high note for marching bands

M&T Bank Stadium hosts national competition with more than 70 groups

November 18, 2007|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,SUN REPORTER

They weren't the cheers you'd expect to hear at M&T Bank Stadium on a November weekend.

"Color guard rules!" pompom-waving fans screamed from the stands. "Fly like an eagle!"

Marching band supporters tend to avoid trash talk or name-calling to focus on the positive, a reputation borne out this weekend at the U.S. Scholastic Band Association National Championship.

After months of after-school and weekend practices, football halftime show performances and local competitions, more than 70 high school marching bands from across the nation closed out their season in a marathon of performances Friday and yesterday.

"It's great to put in so much hard work and be rewarded for it," said drum major Kendra Orcutt, a senior at River Hill High School in Clarksville.

"I think that was a really good way to end the season."

Each band, no matter its size, had 14 minutes to win over the crowd and the judges with their show - and get anywhere from 12 to a few hundred musicians and color guard members and equipment on and off the turf.

Self-proclaimed "pit crews" and "roadies" of parents and alumni volunteer to set up large props - ranging from New York City scenes to Greek columns - on the Ravens field to go along with the theme for each band's program.

Before each school's performance, an announcer read words of encouragement from band members' family and friends.

Color guards tossed shimmering, vibrant flags or twirled rifles and swords while dancers leapt with colored ribbons in hand.

Musicians, whether they carried giant sousaphones or tiny piccolos, drew wild applause when they marched into fluid, snakelike or rigid, angular formations.

Sarah Hines, an Atholton High senior who plays baritone horn, said she enjoys watching people work together to put on a show - and making friends in the meantime.

Atholton's band members have become so close, they even have a pet rock named Wilson.

"It's something that's bigger than the sum of all the parts," Hines said.

"No one can do it alone."

Atholton's performance yesterday, she said, "was one of the best shows of my life."

For many of the marching bands, the competition was the last performance of a season that starts with band camp in the summer and ends with football season in late fall.

"They stay in music, and they stay out of trouble," said Sandy Hill of Bristol, Va., whose son Blake plays tenor drums at Virginia High School.

"It's just something they can carry with them wherever they go and be able to make friends."

Hill was among more than 15,000 people - about half of them band members - who attended the event, which also drew a large crowd at the inaugural national competition last fall at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.

Last year, about 50 bands competed. Caryn Goebel, a spokeswoman for Youth Education in the Arts, or YEA!, the nonprofit organization that sponsors scholastic arts programs, including the U.S. Scholastic Band Association, said because so many schools wanted to participate this year, the organization made the competition a two-day event and added about 20 schools.

This year, schools from 12 states came out.

More than 700 schools from 22 states make up the U.S. Scholastic Band Association, whose competitions promote music education and allow students to perform in professional venues with other students from around the country, said Sean King, executive director.

For the national championship, schools only had to register, rather than qualify by winning previous contests.

King said one of the association's goals is to help bands improve their programs. Judges walked the field during each performance while tape-recording their notes, which will become available to the bands, along with written comments and a videotape of each performance.

Awards are given for first through fifth place in each group, and participation awards are given to the others.

"We don't really talk about scores and placements as much as we talk about continuing to improve and putting our best out there on the field," said Joe Fischer, band director for River Hill.

Lee Stevens, Atholton's band director, said that's one reason his band has participated in association events for the past decade.

"I think the most beneficial product of this discipline is the growth and development of an incredible work ethic," he said.

No matter how the band places in the competition, he's glad the kids had fun.

"I'm elated and exhausted," Stevens said. "They've worked so hard this entire season."

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