INDIANAPOLIS (Nov. 14, 2009)—It was a profound pleasure to see the marching band from American Fork High School, in American Fork, Utah, take the field one more time this marching season, here at the Bands of America Grand National Championships at the Lucas Oil Stadium.
The band wasn’t scheduled to appear, and as we reported about a month ago, one of the band’s teachers, Heather Christensen, a woodwind instructor, was killed in a horrible bus roll-over accident. As the band was returning from a competition in Pocatello, Idaho, the bus driver passed out. Ms. Christensen tried to take control and save the students from a horrible tragedy, but she was ejected in the roll-over and died instantly. Calling her a “friend and inspired colleague,” the band has dedicated this season to her memory.
At a Bands of America regional competition a couple weeks ago, one of the judges said he would sure love to see the band at the Grand Nationals, but they had no money to make the trip from Utah to Indianapolis. This is where the miracle comes in.
Over the course of about three or four days, the band was able to raise well over $100,000. Some reports today say it was closer to a quarter million. Four days.
John Miller directs the band, which is led on the field by drum majors Richard Flores, Deborah McKinney, Mary Kay Pierce, and Christian Succo. The show pays tribute to American veterans, with field props that include signs, some of them famous, others not so much, like the “Uncle Sam — I WANT YOU” poster and the well known photograph of the U.S. Marines landing on Iwo Jima.
One injured band member in a wheelchair participates by holding the American flag throughout the performance.
At one point, members kneel in a formation reminiscent of the rows of tombstones in a national cemetery. I can’t say for sure if that was the effect they were going for, but that’s what it meant to me when I saw it on the field, reminding all of us that freedom comes with a heavy price.
Rare muted trumpets, mostly playing to the backfield, give a haunting glow of tribute to our fallen countrymen. In fact, the opening of the entire show is a flute solo, followed by a trumpet solo, in a style that would make American composer Aaron Copland proud.
This leads to an explosive percussion segue, a battery of force that simply refuses to let go. Good stuff from the band that crossed our paths first as we shared their sadness for a great loss, and then as we relished in the peace and dedication of our teachers, our fallen heroes, and our leaders-to-be.