Ready to Take the Field

Hours of long, tireless practices under the scorching sun, water breaks that leave no one satisfied and, of course, the ever-present frustration that occurs when a large group of people won’t shut up and buckle down. It sounds miserable, but in reality, marching band proves worth it in the end, because it all boils down to one thing that makes all the days of sweat, blood and tears worth it: competition.

Under the direction of David Fairchild, the Lakeside Viking Marching Band performs a different show every year and competes at two marching competitions each season. The marching band consists of wind instruments (brass and woodwinds included), percussion, front ensemble (A.K.A. the pit orchestra), the color guard, and the drum majors. “We [the marching band] follow DCI (Drum Corps International),” said Fairchild. “That means we have one very hard show that we work on all season.” As Fairchild often reminds them, the marching band is more of a family than a club or a sport. “Marching band’s definitely had a positive effect on my life,” said sophomore Brooke Mills. “There’s a lot of friends who I probably wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t joined.” A large group of diverse people coming together for one specific purpose, helping each other and improving themselves along the way? Sounds like a family to me.

Ready, Set, March!: Before every football game when the marching band performs, they line up in lines of two by section behind the drum majors and make their way onto the field while Fairchild announces the music.

Photo by Lynn Kessler

Drum majors Laynie McGrail and Peter DeNatale, both juniors, conduct the band on the field. They master the tempo of each movement and control the entire band, because if no one watches them, the performance falls apart. “Since the beginning of summer, we have been practicing for hours each week in order to perfect the marching and playing techniques in each of the four parts in our show,” said DeNatale. “We use this time to set new drill, rehearse the music with it, and add in the visuals to make it pop.”

During the off-season, the marching band staff gets together to determine the theme for the next year’s show by compiling songs they’ve heard and think would pair well together or certain themes that caught their eye. This year, “Among the Stars” sums up all the music, marching, and flag-waving. Once the theme sets itself in stone, Hunter McGee, the music teacher at Gwinnett County Public School and member of the Lakeside marching band staff, buckles down and composes songs from their place on hourly radio or gathering dust on a high shelf into a representation of the theme. For this year, he chose “A Sky Full of Stars” by Coldplay, “Counting Stars” by One

Republic, “Fly Me to the Moon” by Frank Sinatra, “Rocket Man” by Elton John, “Space Oddity” by David Bowie, “Lucky Star” by Madonna, the newer Star Trek theme, “E.T.” by Katy Perry, and “Starships” by Nicki Minaj.

After McGee finishes up the music portion of the show, Fairchild sends the movements to Dr. Stuart Benkert, head of the department of performing arts at UT Chatanooga, who doubles as a drill writer. Keeping in mind the theme the same way McGee was required to, he gives each member of the band a dot number and moves all the dots around a grid until a picture forms. Every beat in the music translates into a step on the field, so while Benkert writes the drill, he decides when the brass should stand still and when a complicated transition from picture to picture should take place.

Band Kids Make Do: The marching band practices on a painted grid on the parking lot outside the Fine Arts Building. This helps keep track of the yard lines and each individual band member’s dot. However, since dots don’t show up on the competition fields, the band practices on the uneven, grassy surface of the football field before competitions.

Photo by Lynn Kessler

Daniel MacNamara holds the responsibility of visuals and correcting marching technique within the band. Visuals, while normally performed by the color guard and the pictures made by the marching band, can add a hint of excitement to a long 32-count hold, where the band would otherwise remain stagnant while they play. “When we get into the details of the show, it’s during the season,” said MacNamara. “I have different ideas for visuals from shows that I’ve done and from what I’ve seen, and I see what we can fit in with the theme and what the students can handle.”

The best version of the show requires hours of practice as a group and as an individual. Every band member must watch the drum major so their feet stay in time, section leaders synchronize the horn pops, and all of this ties together after countless runs. The band deals with the music on alternating Mondays inside the band room and plugs it into the show on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:30 to 6:00 during practice. Every Friday with a football game, the band performs its show during halftime (excluding Senior Night and Homecoming). While in the stands, the band watches the game to determine when to play the Fight Song when the football team makes a touchdown, and plays various stands tunes to hype up the audience.

This year, competitions take place on Saturday, October 21 and November 4. St. Pius will host the first, Milton High School the second. The judges begin scrutinizing the band the moment the announcer says, “Drum majors, is your band ready to take the field?” The drum majors salute, call the band to attention, and then the show is off. Judges position themselves on the sideline to listen to the pit, at the end zones to watch foot timing, in the box to judge the entire form, and on the field to observe the winds, percussion, and guard. The scores a band can earn range from one to five, with one as the top score. Judges deduct points for unsynchronized horn pops and step outs, deteriorating posture and marching technique, breaking form (not being in line), and mistakes in the music. Once all of the bands perform, the leadership of each band make their way to the field, where they stand in an orderly fashion behind their respective drum majors. The drum majors of the hosting school hand out awards, and the competition ends. The marching band continually gets called upon throughout the rest of the year to do parades (such as DragonCon, Inman Park, and Oak Groove) and pep rallies. The majority of students in marching band also take a band class, so little risk exists of any section getting too out of practice during the off-season.

How to Add Flare to a Band: The color guard adds a more graceful and eye-catching element to the show. The bright flags and elegant dance moves create the perfect contrast with the rigid formation of the band. Photo by Lynn Kessler

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