For many high school communities, the fall season is best evoked through the atmosphere of a Friday night football game.
The games feature brisk air, blanket-covered bleacher seats, warm concession food and a recurring blast of music signifying each big play, each touchdown, and each coordinated cheerleader rally cry — sometimes it comes in the form of a school fight song, other times it comes as a movie theme or a classic rock homage.
This is the sound of the band. And in a lot of cases, this setting is where people’s listening experience with band starts and ends.
But the life of a marching band member involves much more than the soundtrack-like supporting role he or she plays on Friday nights. Put simply, marching band takes work — a lot of it. Behind the scenes, band programs come with a unique list of obligations and the need for discipline, patience and commitment from both players and directors.
According to Cumberland Valley High School Band Director David Porter, a marching band’s success hinges on a proper attitude for working with others and budgeting focus; band directors strive to bring in students interested in balancing individual development with collaborative values.
“The ideal band kid is a student who wants to learn an instrument and enjoys working as part of a team and producing something together,” Porter said. “No matter what type of band you are dealing with, it is a very unique class where the end product is the biggest group project (the students) are ever going to have. There are a lot of important curricular things for them to learn like pitch, dynamics and tempo, but they also have to learn extra stuff like teamwork and being organized.”
“(Marching band) is a different opportunity than you would get in a concert setting,” said Big Spring High School Band Director Adam Nobile. “(The students) are learning the music and also skills outside of what they are doing with music like time management and finishing everything they need to get done.”
This attitude proves to be crucial as bands enter their fall season; suddenly, a normal school week becomes a juggling act between individual lessons, full band practices, football games and band competitions — not to mention classes and homework.
“Sometimes we have competitions just after having a (football) game — that’s just the nature of it,” Porter said.
“We put it down on paper and realized that (Cumberland Valley marching band members) spend around 24 hours a week in marching band during the (fall) — between practices, Friday night football games (and) Saturday events,” said Cumberland Valley Band Boosters Assistant Treasurer Mary Beth Anderson.
During a typical week, most marching bands hold two weekly rehearsals and a Saturday rehearsal with or without a competition.
Responsibilities can also vary depending on a student’s place in the band. Drum majors, for instance, have their own set of specific tasks.
“One of the biggest responsibilities (for drum majors) is keeping the band in time,” said Carlisle High School Drum Major Sarah Ebert. “We are sort of the bridge between the staff and the band. We will also have section leader meetings just to make sure that everyone is working together and everybody knows what they are working towards.”
As for directors, main responsibilities include selecting music for the band to perform and creating how those pieces will be presented on the field — in addition to scheduling, travel organizing, and roster managing.
“After we have (the music pieces) in place, it is my job to make sure that the pieces are coming together at the right time,” said Carlisle High School Band Director Byron Mikesell. “In order to do that, I accept a lot of the responsibility for the music portion of the show and the instruction in the areas of music. We have other people who come in to do a lot of the visual instruction for things like marching.
With a variety of different potential stressors, directors must try to maintain a pressure-free environment while continuing to put emphasis on practicing and improving.
“Sometimes stress just can’t be avoided, but we try to eliminate those moments as frequently as possible,” Porter said. “We give (band members) breaks when we can, but we also keep them focused during rehearsals. Our group this year is a very focused bunch, so that makes life easier.”
But most directors consider the pride of achievement to be worth the occasional hassle.
“(Marching band) is definitely worth it,” Nobile said. “I think it is a great opportunity for (students); they should be proud of what they are doing and they should be striving for excellence as the season goes on. I keep the word pride right over the front of the band room door so that they can see it every day.”