INDIANAPOLIS (Nov. 14, 2009)—A marching band from the state of New Jersey made the semi-finals here at Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time ever in the history of the Bands of America Grand National Championships. One drum major described the achievement of South Brunswick High School in Monmouth Junction as “amazing.”
“We’ve heard about and seen videos of schools like Avon and L.D. Bell,” said Kenny Shupak in a phone interview. He’s a senior and one of the band’s drum majors. “But for us to march on the same field was surreal for most of the people in our band.”
The band has performed in Giants Stadium and competed at the BOA regionals in Allentown, Penn., but this was their first trip to the Grand Nationals since 2005, making it the first time for each student in the group. Mr. Shupak said Lucas Oil Stadium has something the other venues don’t:
“The stadium is much bigger,” he said. “The crowd is much bigger, and just to see all the people there, cheering, and knowing about how many people are following it online, back in New Jersey—it was just amazing.”
He said bands from the northeastern United States have barriers they have to overcome in order to make it to the Grand Nationals.
In fact, if we take “the northeast” to mean the states of New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine, he’s right. South Brunswick was the only band at Grand Nationals from any of these states. Add Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia (not exactly the northeast anymore), and the number only goes up to two, with the addition of Blackhawk High School from Beaver Falls, Penn.
Band budgets have suffered because of the recession, but other factors may be in play. Mr. Shupak said the length of the winter season in the northeast, compared to places like Texas, cuts the marching season short. Other reasons include the intimidation factor that surrounds the Grand Nationals.
“What separates us from a lot of other bands in the area is the size of our program and the complexity of our show,” Mr. Shupak said. “Most other bands around here appeal to the crowd, but their crowds are not really used to watching bands like us. Most people don’t really understand our creativity unless they can interpret our show as a musician would interpret it.”
The light prevails
The title of South Brunswick’s show is “Reaching for the Light.” The details depict man’s struggle to find light and goodness while being challenged by darkness and evil, director Mark Kraft said.
The music is based on Frank Ticheli’s composition “Angels in the Architecture.” The angel, portrayed by a mesmerizing soprano soloist singing a 19th-century Shaker song at the beginning, represents the protective wall of light and establishes the divine. As she sings, lower sounds and dissonant harmonies begin to fade into the music, symbolic of darkness challenging the light.
“We use the music to convey darkness and light, but I think our director wants to appeal to a lot of conflicts each of us has within ourselves,” Mr. Shupak said, foreshadowing what was to come. “Just when you think everything is going dark, light prevails.”
The next section of music is turbulent and fast-paced, as this struggle continues and brings spiritual doubt, Mr. Kraft said. Then, the show moves to a calmer, more reflective moment, introduced by a French horn/euphonium septet, who play a chorale based on “The Old 100th” (Doxology).
A woodwind choir and the full ensemble then join that choir. Each group paints the chorale with different musical colors, leading to a brief reprise of the turbulence in a percussion feature.
“The whole band turns and plays backfield,” Mr. Shupak said, “and then the angel comes back in the middle of the set.”
“It is the night that makes the dawning,” she sings. “It is the depth that makes the height. It is the darkness that gives birth to light.”
As the show moves from darkness to light, it builds in velocity and intensity, resolving all conflicts with a triumphant return of the chorale based on “The Old 100th.”
South Brunswick High School, with a student enrollment that has doubled in the last decade, brings a marching band to Indianapolis directed by Mark Kraft and led on the field by drum majors Monica Fung, David Li, Eric Siegel, and Mr. Shupak. For the record, the band’s semi-final performance earned scores of 16.2 for music, 15.65 for visuals, and 46.1 for general effect, making their total score 77.95, earning a Division I rating, and placing them 25th overall—first in New Jersey.