A marching band’s performance depends on more than 100,000 things going right, more than 100 students taking the correct step at the correct time, while playing the right note, over and over throughout the performance.
For high school students, ensuring they start off on the right foot — literally and figuratively — begins with band camp, two grueling weeks of 12-hour practice days in weather that often tops 90 degrees. That’s when they learn not only the music and routines but also how to function as a team.
For William Blount High School, 117 musicians and color guard members are in their second week of band camp right now. Thirty-five students are new to the band, and as director Ron Rogers noted, “We don’t have a JV band.”
He arrives for band camp at 7:15 a.m. Students begin showing up at 7:30 a.m. and start practicing at 8 a.m. By 9 a.m. they are lined up on the field for stretching and 30 to 40 minutes of work on fundamentals, such as their marching posture, how to carry their instruments and how to ensure their first step is correct. They work on the show for the rest of the morning.
The lunch break is from noon to 1:30 p.m., but students must remain on campus. The afternoon is devoted to instruction by section, and the dinner break is 3-5 p.m. From 5-8 p.m. is a repeat of the morning session.
It’s a physically and mentally challenging experience, and at the end of the first day of band camp, Rogers said, freshmen “looked like their world was over.” That’s when he pointed to the 25 seniors who are back for their fourth year.
During band camp, freshmen begin making connections with upperclassmen, and the seniors are hit with the realization of their role as leaders.
“My freshman year I was always out of step,” said David Handlon, now a senior.
One of the things they learn during camp, Rogers said, is “anything they do affects 100 other people.”
Ultimately, the band members become like family.
They will practice each part of the routine over and over until they can make it flow no matter what happens. “If we mess up, you can’t go back,” said Andrew Byrd.
“If you think about what you’re doing in the moment, you miss what’s coming next,” another senior noted.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Students also learn survival skills, starting with “hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.” Some students wear hydration packs that look like backpacks with a tube running to their mouths for a quick sip without leaving the practice field.
Experienced band camp members know to wear sunscreen and start the morning with some type of breakfast, preferably without milk, which doesn’t settle well with the heat and exercise they endure.
Famed Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight recognized the physical workout that participating in a drum corps demands.
“I like to take my players (to watch drum corps) to show them what they can accomplish with hard work and teamwork,” the coach said in a 1987 interview. “Besides, once they see them practice 12 hours a day, my players think I’m a helluva lot easier.”
In recent years researchers have compared the heart rates and breathing of band members to the physical exertion of runners.
At William Blount, 4-foot, 11-inch Vanessa Vaughn carries a sousaphone, a type of tuba that can weigh up to 50 pounds.
“We are working as much, if not more than, the football team,” said Morgan Fipps.
“And we have more trophies,” added Grayson Briggs.
Working with Rogers during the band camp are Isabelle Lee, a WBHS graduate now studying piano performance, and Joey Cole, a former student of Rogers’ who is a junior at the University of Tennessee and part of the Pride of the Southland marching band.
Noah Tuten, the new band director at Union Grove Middle School and Molly Lyon, the new band director for Carpenters Middle are working with the William Blount students, too. Percussion instructor Jimmy Clemons is paid by the band boosters. Deanna Veal leads the color guard.
“We have wonderful community support,” Rogers said, with churches and band parents providing meals for the students.
Band boosters arrive every day an hour before the students to set up water, sports drinks and snacks, and be ready to offer first aid when needed.
“I take two weeks vacation for this,” said Amy Arwood, president of the boosters, and she isn’t the only parent who uses vacation days to help during band camp.
Other bands also help each other. William Blount needs seven bass clarinets this year and has only four, so Rogers was making arrangements Monday to borrow instruments from other band directors.
Before camp Rogers created the arrangements for the Vegas-themed show with songs by Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones using Finale music notation software.
Once Rogers knows definitely how many students there will be, on the first day of band camp, he creates the routine with Pyware marching drill design software.
During band camp, Cole said, “I’ve seen these kids grow not only as players but as people.”
As part of the band, he said, “You represent your school, your band, your family, the whole community.” When a band goes to competition, it is creating the impression that others across the country will have of that community.
“Marching band is a huge part of our lives,” said senior Robert Bryant. “At the end of the day, it’s something we can be proud about.”
Friday night William Blount High School will end band camp with a performance for parents, on the lawn where the students have practiced, not at the stadium yet. “They’re going to be scared to death,” said Rogers, who has 33 years experience as a band director.
“It’s going to be a struggle for some time,” he said. But the two weeks of band camp will give them a foundation to move forward.
The band is expected to take the field in its uniforms for the home football game Sept. 9 against Heritage High School.