Common sense accepts that instruments and equipment are needed for any successful marching band. However, some may not realize the equal measure of dedication, perseverance and strength required to excel.
Cleveland High band director Jim Burton explained band members receive their first taste of the next year’s material in the last month of school.
Once the material is introduced, “practice” becomes the word on the tip of everyone’s tongue.
Students attend practice once a week throughout the length of summer. A band camp provides two weeks of intensive focus from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Independently managed group practices place the woodwind section, brass and more on the same page. Individual practices on top of everything else round out the band into a fine-tuned machine.
Students not only learn the music, but the steps to accompany the notes.
Burton and assistant band director Alex Denton arrange the music. Zach Riggins, Cleveland assistant principal, then writes a drill. Raider Guard director Andi Wendorf also works on steps for her performers.
As the drill writer, Riggins creates movement intended to enhance the music while moving people into the proper place.
“If it is a big [musical] moment, then they will be in a set that is big and excited,” Burton explained. “If it is more smooth and lyrical, it will be softer, curvy shapes, if you will.”
Although the marching band zig-zags across the field, Burton described the color guard as the visual enhancement. He said guard members add a lot of sparkle to the band’s visual presentation. Color guard routines often include flags and decorative drill rifles to punctuate the music.
Summer rehearsals transition seamlessly into daily practices once school begins. All band students hone musical skill sets in class. Those in the Blue Raider Marching Band also meet every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday after school from 3 to 5.
Football games offer an opportunity to perform in front of a large crowd. The atmosphere also helps with any remaining cases of beginner’s nerves.
“You can imagine it is rather daunting for the first-year kids, especially, to do that at first,” Burton said of the football games. “Every time they do it in front of people, it becomes more comfortable and they are focusing more on the performance aspect.”
Fall’s Friday night performances offered a taste of field competition before the Blue Raiders attended the real deal, like the Bands of America Regional Championship in Atlanta; the Peach State Classic in Rome, Ga.; and the USBands Southern States Championship, held in Chattanooga in 2013.
All of the practices, drill rehearsals, football games and competitions further prepared Cleveland High’s marching band for this year’s USBands National Championship in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., home of the NFL’s New York Jets and New York Giants.
The competition is so large it takes place over two weekends in three locations. There were six teams in Cleveland High’s class at the competition. Each one of the bands had more than 200 members — almost double Cleveland’s 110.
The difference in band size came with a schedule change which placed Cleveland in the competition’s biggest class.
“They had been working on this since May. They knew what they were going into. They were ready to do it,” Denton said. “Adrenaline was driving at that point. I don’t think anyone was affected [by nerves] at that point.”
Instead of choking in the face of the increased competition, Cleveland rose to the occasion to earn second place.
Only .038 points separated the Blue Raiders from the first-place winners.
Burton said the score is the closest he has seen in his 25 years as band director.
The Raider Guard also showed up to impress. Their efforts were rewarded when they were named best color guard at USBands National Championships.
Denton said the students went above and beyond in their performance.
Added Burton, “We had as little drama or individual behavior issues as I remember. Top to bottom, they really gave maximum effort, and it obviously paid off with the results.”
Burton and Denton have already begun working on the arrangement for next year’s piece. Work reportedly started on the drive up to New York for the big competition.
Both agreed there is a tremendous diversity within the band. According to the numbers, the marching band is the single largest organization in the school with almost 10 percent of the student population.
“... They learn to work and achieve with every type of personality and every type of kid,” Burton said. “It really makes a difference in the long run, because they are not cliquing. There is no way they can clique.”
“There is no second string. Everyone is out there. Everyone has tremendous responsibility.”
Concluded Burton, “They all have to pick each other up and help each other out. It doesn’t matter who is sitting there next to you, they all have to do the same thing.”
Marching band finished its season following the USBands National Championship. Work will commence in May.