INDIANAPOLIS (Nov. 14) — This is the first of a series of 35 stories about high school marching bands that performed at the Bands of America Grand National Championships on Thursday through Saturday, November 12–14, 2015. Voxitatis is grateful to the Music For All organization, particularly to Eric Martin, president and CEO, and to Kathryn Reinhardt, marketing coordinator, for their assistance in developing this series of stories and for their hospitality while we were in Indianapolis covering what is, by far, the largest high school marching band event in the US.
From their first step, members of the marching band at Mililani High School from Mililani, Hawaii, were marching into the record books as the first band from our 50th state to compete at the Bands of America Grand National Championships. They took the field at Lucas Oil Stadium at 3 PM Eastern Standard Time, Thursday, November 12, and performed their show entitled Pandora’s Box.
The band is directed by Derek Kaapana and led on the field by drum major Kimberly Tsuha. Musical selections included “Uninvited” by Alanis Morissette, “Angel” by Sarah McClachlan, and original music by John Morse. The show was divided into three movements, or parts, entitled “Evil Unleashed,” “Crossroads,” and “The Road to Hope.”
Ms Tsuha, a senior, describes the show:
Our show is called Pandora’s Box. It’s based off the mythology story. We begin with Pandora opening the box, and all the evil comes out of the box and into the world. So the world is filled with a lot of hate and war.
In the second movement, there’s sadness, because that’s also something evil, like disease. And people are dying and suffering, not just in America. And in the final movement, the last thing to come out of the box is hope.
So Pandora’s Box is the story of how there’s evil, but in the end there’s always hope that things can change to be better.
To get the message across, band members use a combination of musical and visual elements. There are, of course, dissonant chords that bring out the evil, but the most intimate details of the show’s theme are highlighted in the eye contact and facial expressions performers bring to the field. They feel every moment, every nuance, as they immerse themselves into their characters.
Google Maps puts the distance from Mililani to Indianapolis at about 7,000 kilometers, as the crow flies, if crows, like high school marching bands, could fly that far. Mr Kaapana said the group was planning to return to the tropical weather in Hawaii—and leave the cold to which most of his students were unaccustomed behind—on Sunday, the day after the competition.
And fly they did, both ways, thanks to the tireless fundraising efforts of students and the Mililani school community.
I didn’t ask about the exact amount of money it took to bring the Trojan Marching Band all the way to Indianapolis, how much was raised at a carnival and other fundraisers, but let’s just say, the typical amount for bands to be here is well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars and the typical band doesn’t travel 7,000 kilometers. A portion of the money comes from the school, but most of it ends up being raised privately by booster organizations or students.
And it’s worth every penny. Mililani performs in marching band competitions and festivals back home, but those festivals would never compare to what students experienced here.
Marching band festivals in Hawaii are “on a much smaller scale,” Mr Kaapana said. “For students to see groups of various levels, and some extremely talented groups, it will hopefully stimulate their interest to grow the program, not necessarily in numbers, but in quality.”
His students agree. “I thought it was eye-opening to come here and see all these other spectacular marching bands from across the nation performing their show,” said Justin Makagawa, a senior and trumpet section leader. “For us back home, it’s very different, because the bands aren’t the same quality or level as the bands here. To see what else other bands have to offer is amazing.”
But there’s more to it than exposing students to a higher caliber of band and letting them see the fruits of other students’ labors; we’ll explore some of those topics in this series. At Mililani, there’s also a strong sense of family and bonding, which tends to boost student performance and give participation in marching band a greater meaning.
Marching bands ‘leave it on the field’
And so for the record, here to the home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, this domed stadium that, according to Eric Martin, president and CEO of Bands of America, was designed as much for acoustics as for athletics, Mililani High School brings a marching band to dot the last ‘i’ of their season and turn in their final exam before thousands of cheering fans.
“Marching band is really unlike any experience you’ll have anywhere else,” Ms Tsuha said. “In the classroom, you do get to learn how to work hard, but it’s not the same as when you’re at the end of the show. You’re there, and you know you’ve left your heart on the field. And you know that that was really the best you could do.”
Among the 143 students in the band, about one-fourth of them are freshmen. Instilling that sense of family and ownership of responsibility falls on student leaders as much as on the group’s director. Mr Makagawa said the trumpet section routinely has outings and other bonding activities to “assimilate everyone” into the marching band “family.”
“It’s hard to get them to understand how it feels at the end of the season when you really reap the benefits of all the hard work,” Ms Tsuha said, referring to incoming freshmen. “They might not understand what they’re working for yet or understand why we always get on them for having straight legs or having good posture.
“But at the end of the day, they understand that this means something to someone else, and so it means something to them. And because we have a good relationship with each other and we can trust and rely on each other that we’ll all do our best on the field, it makes everyone want to work a little harder. Because it’s always easier to do it for someone when you care about them.”