Making the music happen

August 23, 2005|by Tyler Austin and John Slick

For 65 years, the Boonsboro High School Marching Band has provided music for the community, from home football games to the Mummers Parade.

And for almost as long, band members have met for two weeks every summer to begin training for the upcoming band competition season.

Marching bands have come a long way in the past two or three decades. On the high school level, there are now band competitions every Saturday. Each band performs a field show - marching around a football field and making different forms while playing music. The show normally has a certain theme. Bands are judged in several categories: ensemble marching and music; individual marching and music; color guard; and so on.

After a disappointing finish last school year - the Boonsboro High School band lost a spot at championships by a third of a point - everyone was determined that that wouldn't happen again. So we approached this year's band camp with a clear purpose.

A well-oiled music machine

The primary point of band camp is to learn the skills needed to put as much of the upcoming year's field show on the field as possible.

When we learn a new show, we learn it in increments called "sets." Each set is a portion of a song - a certain number of beats, encompassing several measures of music. The show starts at Set Zero - the opening set - and normally involves about 50 to 60 sets, depending on music selection, the angle of the show and other variables.

Learning a show can be mind-numbingly tedious. All band members - every single one of us - must memorize their music and learn where and when to march into formations. It means we practice formations and music over and over and over.

Hard work

From the beginning of camp Monday, Aug. 1, it seemed that this year would be different. From 10 a.m. until noon, we memorized six sets on the field, as opposed to three in the whole first day last year. We walked up to lunch feeling proud of ourselves.

By the end of our first day, we had assembled 11 sets - the entirety of our opening song - on the field. We had not tackled the music, just the movement.

Tuesday was a long practice day - from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. We worked on more sets and practiced our music, but the day was otherwise fairly uneventful.

By Wednesday, practice was a routine: Arrive at 9 a.m., work on marching fundamentals until noon, break for lunch, practice music until 2 or 3 p.m. and then march until 5. On Tuesdays, our long days, our afternoon music practice lasted until 6 p.m.; after a break for dinner, we'd go back on the field and march until 9 p.m.

And the process started over each day.

Hot lunch

But Wednesday's lunch was a little different. While eating with a group of friends, including Sarah, a flute player, a color guard member approached our corner of the room. She was holding a small plastic tub filled with a dark red sauce. She asked Sarah whether she liked hot sauce. Sarah said yes.

"Well then try this," the color guard said, thrusting the jar at her. Sarah put some on her finger and swallowed the sauce. We all stared expectantly. Nothing happened. Disappointed, we all turned back to our lunches.

Suddenly, an ear-splitting shriek pierced the room. Heads craned to check out the commotion everywhere, and we were met with one of the strangest sites in our life. Sarah, with eyes bloodshot and face red, was holding her hands to her face and screaming, her whole body shaking. Five other tasters' screams suddenly joined Sarah's. Adding to the chaos, our director suddenly ran into the room, yelling, "Quiet down! Quiet down!"

The rest of us didn't know whether to laugh or sympathize. It most certainly was the highlight of a long week of monotonous hard work. But, at the end of five days, we could march two songs on the field with music.

Mysterious friend

On Monday, we began learning drill - formations and other movement - for our third song. And then we ran across a mystery, something odd in a week of diligence and effort.

On Tuesday, we found a dead fish lying in a field between the school and the practice field. As we don't have a creek or lake anywhere remotely close to our field, the source of the fish was a mystery. And since we welcomed anything to interrupt the monotony of repeatedly going over the same music and the same movement, the fish became a prime topic of conversation.

On top of that, it moved. As we walked from school to practice field and back, the fish seemed to change location.

Then, as suddenly as it appeared, the fish was gone. We were at a loss. The fish had been a big part of our lives, and then it vanished into the vast world beyond the practice field.

It's a wrap

Thursday, Aug. 11, our last day, was incredibly tedious. With the end of camp so near, we could almost but not quite taste it. We ran the show and then ran it again and then fixed some things and then ran it again, and again and again. Thankfully, we spent the vast portion of the afternoon on both Wednesday and Thursday sitting in the cool band room working on our music.

After the last day, we gathered at Shafer Park in Boonsboro for our annual post-band camp picnic. We performed the show for our parents, who had given up their kids for two weeks. They seemed to be impressed with our show, and, moreover, our effort.

The upcoming field show should prove a rather interesting one. After all of this year's football games and band competitions are done, we'll still have fond memories of two marvelous, mind-numbing, musical, mysterious weeks of band camp in the summer of 2005.

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