By CHRIS HARRIS
While all the local high school football teams readied themselves for their first action of the season this weekend, there’s another subset of students preparing to take the field of competition.
Think woodwinds and brass, not shoulder pads and helmets.
Pulaski County High School and Southwestern High School are preparing for their first marching band contests of the season, and both are hoping that their progress throughout the next few months will result in a crescendo of success at State Finals.
Every year, the band members spend myriad hours under the hot summer sun preparing for their chosen brand of school-against-school competition — just like any other team that plays with a ball. Much like a football lineman who must be mindful of perfect three-point stance along with keeping up the ferocity needed to go hit someone and make a play, band members must balance a focus on flawless technique — with both their instruments and their feet — with the passion inherent to the art of music.
And like any other team activity, it brings students closer together as they all strive for a common goal — winning.
“The best part for me personally ... is the personal relationships we have created with one another over the years,’ said Emily Crockett, who plays clarinet in Southwestern’s band. “We are family and I know that all those people have my back on and off the field.”
Southwestern’s program is relatively young — they’ve only been marching competitively for about eight years. Led by former Pulaski County High School band director Dan Carpenter, the group finished in the state quarterfinals last year, continuing on toward the goal of building a successful tradition.
“I thought we did very well. We scored very competitively with people who have had a marching band a heck of a lot longer than we have,” said Carpenter, who takes his students to Hazard High School September 14 for their first contest of this season. “We took the band to Georgia and held out own with some of the big bands down there.”
This year’s group is about 64 members strong — but it’s not the size that counts the most, but rather the production. Still, considering Southwestern’s first competitive show had only 32 people in it, that shows the growth the program has experiences, and Carpenter said the quality has gone up along with it.
“I get several (students) every year that go off for school as music majors,” he said of the dedication by the students to their art. “You don’t just do that kind of stuff unless you really love it.”
This year’s on-field program is called “Light,” and Carpenter describes it as a “different kind of show (with) different kinds of movements.” The music was composed by a staff member of the Cavaliers drum and bugle corps — essentially “the pros” for competitive marchers — so it exposes the youth to what the corps are doing as more seasoned musicians, and it’s fairly complex, esoteric fare.
“There’s lots of blocks of color in the sound,” said Carpenter. “Not really a lot of well-defined melodic lines. You’re not going to watch the show and go off whistling the thing. ... It starts off fast-paced and has a slow-down ballad section in the middle, and ends on another fast-paced ride.”
Southwestern’s sibling institution Pulaski County High School has fielded a competitive show for much longer, and has its eyes on the biggest of prizes. Now under the direction of Scott Sexton, in his sixth year at the helm, the Marching Maroons had a “disappointing finish” last year at regionals, coming in ninth ... while eight bands advanced to the state semi-finals. Of course, only a little over a point made up the difference, and there was about a point-and-a-half between ninth and sixth places, so Sexton knows that Pulaski could have very easily been in the mix.
“After going to semi-finals the two previous years, our kids are hungry to make it back this year, and hopefully we can improve on our standing there,” said Sexton. “I think this group definitely could. It’s a very self-motivated group. Probably more so than any other group we’ve ever had.”
The band has a 70-member roster this year, with more experience than usual — with high school enrollment up, Sexton said he’s recruited less from the middle school ranks than ever before, giving those younger students a chance to grow more musically before playing with the varsity, so to speak. However, the band has only seven seniors, meaning this year’s group could lay the foundation for sustained success next year.
“I feel like this year we have some new folks on staff from the design standpoint, a new drill writer, a great support staff,” said Sexton. “(Former Somerset High School director) Kevin Holmes worked with us during camp. Several other local folks came in and worked with us. All in all, this group has the potential to do very well.”
They’ll get tested soon. The band attends a contest today in Adair County — home of one of the state’s perennially strongest bands — that serves as a preseason exhibition (kind of like UK’s first couple of basketball games each season — the ones that don’t county) to test themselves before going to their first contest at Montgomery County on September 14.
The theme of the show is “Time of your Life” and is based on a mix of serious and popular music — Antonin Dvorák’s “New World Symphony,” Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” and Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).” Themes from the various pieces of music are referenced throughout, and there is some original material in the mix as well.
There’s also a heavy dramatic element, as the show tells the story of an elderly woman looking through a photo album, represented by a series of six large backdrops that represent pages of the book.
“As she gets to that point in her life (whichever it is), they’re going to be revealed,” said Sexton. “Then she comes down and relives different moments of her life. The ballad is the whole self-discovery (story), leaving home for the first time, meeting the love of your life.”
The show charts the woman’s journey through time — getting married, seeing her husband go off to war, the trials of adulthood, all represented both by actors and through the drill and music.
“The question posed to the audience is, have you spent your time in the best way that you could?” noted Sexton.
For the students at both Pulaski and Southwestern, the past summer camp and this fall’s competitive season is proof that they are indeed spending their time in perfect harmony with their passion for music.
“I find being in band rewarding because we put all these small and very meticulous things together and create something so beautiful,” said Crockett, “and it’s different every single time.”