By Mina Williams Enterprise editor
High school football games draw crowds to the stadiums.
There are students, parents, faculty and fans packing the stands. There are players, cheerleaders and mascots at field level. Then there is that ever present audio of the evening coming from the high school band.
Imagine a football game without the school’s fight song, or a rousing chorus of “Louie Louie.” Could the “charge” cheer erupt from the stands without the horn lead-in? What heart doesn’t throb with the drum line’s cadence?
Getting teenage musicians tuned up and ready for the show rests in the hands of the school’s band directors. From music selection to performance presentation, it is the band director who coaxes the best out of each musician. While the task changes weekly, the preparation process from music selection to final bow is similar.
Connecting with the audience
Selecting the Friday program is a thoughtful operation, aimed at breathing life into the performance and connecting with the audience, said David Johnson, band director at Shoreline’s Shorecrest High School.
Band tradition runs deep at Shorecrest. The Scots’ 100- to 120-member marching band is a combination of two concert bands. They never actually rehearse together prior to game day since they meet at different times during the school day. “It is challenging,” said Johnson, who has been at Shorecrest since 1990. “But the reward is that they sound much bigger when they play at the game.”
Music for halftime shows depends on the occasion, he said. Patriotic songs when games occur on 9-11, matching music to Homecoming themes and crafting special musical salutes are classic veins. One week, the theme “War and Peace” was played out with the “1812 Overture,” followed by music from the 1960s with a peace-sign formation on the field.
Marshalling students into straight marching lines and positioning them on the field takes practice, Johnson said. The band works the week before the game only once or twice on the practice field for about 30 minutes. “Since each game has different formations and music, it is a lot of work,” he said.
Formations are charted out, by Johnson, prior to game week to match the music. “I can be as creative as I want, but I have to remember that the students have to learn it quickly in a couple days.”
Bands facing cuts
Due to budget cuts, and other commitments claiming students’ time, some schools have eliminated the marching function of their bands. Lynnwood’s Meadowdale High School is one of those schools opting for pep band-style performances during football games. As at Shorecrest, the 130-member band is made up of students from three classes. The Mavericks’ band performs for one-half hour prior to the athletic contests.
Selection of music for the pep band is gleaned from the music library. The band program lost half its budget last year, according to David Hawke, band director. As a result, there is little opportunity to incorporate new music. “I prefer to spend money for the larger ensemble performances. This year, for example, I can purchase music for one new tune.”
Both band directors agree that the impact band has on their students’ lives is tremendous. In addition to the success they feel from being involved in live performances, participation leads to other enrichments, such as learning leadership.
At Meadowdale, two drum majors lead the group of musicians — the “sheep herders,” as Hawke calls them. They set up the bleacher area for the band, call out numbers, beat time and call out the next tune the band will play, all the while keeping an eye on the game clock. Unofficially, they pick up litter and help bring equipment into the stands.
A learning experience
“The younger ones learn a lot from the older kids. The modeling is great,” Hawke said. “The best lessons learned are to get there on time, be enthusiastic and raise the bar on the level of musicianship. These kids love to play. They love the audience and have stayed with it in a (class schedule) system that is not conducive to taking the arts.”
Hawke has been leading the pep band program for six years; before that, he taught high school marching band. “Sometimes I miss marching band,” Hawke said. “It teaches an innate sense of timing, breathing while walking and getting together into a common pulse of time. But the pep band is able to produce a more musical sound. In any event, pep band is an opportunity for them to get in front of people. That’s good.”
Students often go on trips as part of band, and those also are learning experiences, said Johnson, at Shorecrest, which sends band members to Europe every three or four years.
“Being involved in something so positive really keeps some students in school,” Johnson added. “They love music, they enjoy the marching and, most of all, they love being with their friends.”