INDIANAPOLIS (Nov. 14) — This is the fifth 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.
“Everything in this world, every voice in the night, every little thing of beauty, comes shining through in your eyes,” sings Celine Dion in her song “Seduces Me.”
It would not be a stretch to say that everything beautiful about music education came shining through in the eyes of the Hebron High School marching band from Carrollton, Texas, one of five high schools in the Lewisville Independent School District about 20 miles north of Dallas, at their first appearance at the Bands of America Grand National Championships.
“And all that is you becomes part of me too, because all you do seduces me.”
The question is, Can Hebron seduce diverse schools across America to become part of a growing world-class fine arts community? They certainly seduced fans who heard them perform, but each in their own way, because the theme of the show, “360,” albeit a clear reference to circles, doesn’t really tell a story but is intended as a sort of abstraction about circles in our world.
Each of us sees 360 degrees through a slightly different lens, just as each of us sees education through a slightly different lens. Some of us, depending on our position and the things that catch our eyes and ears, look at Hebron’s turntable props; some marvel at their nonlinear drill formations or soak in musical episodes that come full circle in about eight minutes, beginning and ending with one of the most haunting oboe solos ever heard on a gridiron. We could attach as many meanings to Hebron’s show as there are performers or fans—and as many reasons for providing kids with a well-rounded education as there are kids.
Some of us jump for joy off of a wheel that had just balanced us on top of it for a few yards. Others, like Noah Khan, one of the band’s four drum majors and an extraordinary saxophone player, take Ms Dion’s song and nail it to the wall—or to the dome, as the case may be, or to whatever structure might be handy to which things can be nailed.
Mr Khan said the first minute and a half of his solo was written out, but the remainder was based on improvisation. “I was able to figure out the chords, with my directors, and I just tried different things: I applied different licks, different scales, like pentatonic, to figure out what sounded good. If I found something that worked, I would stick with it.”
The solo ends with a dramatic high note that soars over, with the help of a mic, a band of 275 performers.
“I tried a couple different high notes at that wailing part,” he said. “And the one that we figured out that worked, I would have to practice that 50 to 75 times a day, just to make sure that happened every time during a performance.”
Well, maybe not every time.
During a preview show for parents before the band came to Indianapolis, one of the props got dropped on his head during the solo. Marching band performances are timed to the second in order to avoid timing penalties in the score, so even when mistakes or accidents happen, performers have no choice but to keep the show moving.
“I just thought, keep going, keep going,” he said. “But I could see everyone around me wincing, like, oh gosh, what should we do? I just kept going with it, and it turned out OK.”
Different perspectives on the same work of art
The notion that art is open to interpretation, based on the experiences each of us brings to the viewing or hearing, and that we each bring different experiences, has been driven home at Hebron for some time now. The band’s senior drum major, Heather Roan, recalled a show two years ago entitled “World of Wonder.”
“I remember distinctly getting into a really long debate with the senior drum major at that time about what the show was actually about,” she said. “After that we just decided to kind of not talk about it, because it means something different to every person who’s marching it. I think that’s one of the really special things about the shows we do for BOA years.”
The band competes in the state championships, sanctioned by the University Interscholastic League, as well as Bands of America. But since the UIL competition only comes around every other year for each enrollment classification, that leaves alternating years for Hebron to work up a BOA show, which, Ms Roan said, gives band members an opportunity to explore deeper thematic material.
The experiences that build trust
Music For All, the nonprofit that includes Bands of America, likes to say it has provided, for 40 years now, “positively life-changing experiences through music” for hundreds of thousands of students. Just this weekend, more than 13,400 students came to Indianapolis to participate in the Grand Nationals, which they would not have done if BOA hadn’t booked Lucas Oil Stadium.
But it’s in the bands’ preparation for coming here—the rehearsals, the fundraising, the support from local communities and school administrators, and so on—that these events become possible. All that takes some doing, starting with strong leadership from students and more than a modicum of “rehearsal etiquette.”
“During warm-ups, fundamentals, and things of that nature this year, I mostly ran the [metronome],” said Taylor Courtney, a junior and one of the band’s drum majors. “But I also went up to people and personally critiqued them, and said, ‘Oh, raise your horn,’ or something like that.”
THE eight-minute show doesn’t get built in a day.
NOR does the efficiency it takes to run a class that focuses the attention of 275 teenagers on a unifying goal for several months of the school year.
Staff members, including director Andy Sealy, who runs the rehearsals from a tower, along with JP Wilson, Travis Pruitt, and Tanner Trigg, who assist in various capacities, which is to say in many, many capacities given a football field full of kids, make rehearsal procedures a priority.
“We tell the kids very openly up front that I’m going to go really slow at first and then I’m going to insist they do things in a certain order in a certain way,” Mr Sealy said. “And I tell them to be patient and diligent, to pay attention to detail and what we’re trying to get out of them in the early stages, so as the season progresses we can maintain that same rehearsal discipline and rehearsal etiquette and efficiency.”
IT comes down to being “professional.”
“Professional in the way the students respond to us, the way we respond to them, the way they interact with both us and themselves about treating each other really well with a lot of respect and a lot of courtesy,” Mr Sealy said. “There’s an expectation that we’re all in this together and we’re all responsible and accountable to each other for all of those things.”
Pride reinforces the lessons learned
A panel of judges during the finals round gave Hebron a third-place finish, but during the semifinals, which used different judges who may have heard or seen something else in the performance, Hebron captured the Class 4A championship and finished first among all 34 semifinal bands. Some scoring sequence bias might have crept into the finals judging.
“We went first in finals, which is probably not the ideal position to go, unless you’re just going to be knock-down gorgeous and nobody can get close to you,” Mr Sealy said. “But these bands are excellent, marvelous marching organizations. The competition is fierce. The later you go in the program, in general, the more opportunity you have, I think, for a high score.”
(For the record, and for the record books, Hebron’s score in the semifinal round here, 97.85, was the highest ever given by BOA judges during that round at Grand Nationals.)
“But nonetheless, our kids did a great job,” he continued. “They were super happy with their performance, and they were proud of the product they put out on the field and proud of their finals run. And that, we always tell them, is more important than what a bunch of judges say. It’s how they feel about themselves and their responsibility to each other in a performance situation and how they deliver that.
“The marching season is a long one, and we’ve got to go all the way to the final bell no matter what, to keep learning and getting stronger. And I’m really proud of them for that experience. Now it’s up to us as adults and them as student leaders to figure out how to make this a transformative experience for our organization all the way around.”
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.