A staple at local high school football games, the students who make up the marching band work hard on the national anthem, school songs and a few classics, but what many fans in the stands may not realize is the band members work even harder when the football team is off the field.
The three-month marching band season is in full swing and bands across York County are in a flurry of rehearsals, competitions and presentations. The band at Indian Land High School is no exception. Band Director Matt Willis said his students are really focused on one main goal this year. They’ve taken home a top five prize at 2A State Championships for two of the past three years. Now they want to make it three of four.
“That’s the ultimate goal for our program this season, we want to qualify for state and then do our best, most successful performance of the year at state finals,” he said.
Like many other local bands, the students and staff members have an exhausting schedule, rehearsing four days a week, to perfect their program. Willis estimates that between the start of band camp in the summer and the performance at state finals in late October, the band will put in up to 280 hours of hard work. In his 11th year at ILHS, Willis said he’s proud of his students.
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“Every year one group leaves a new group comes in and you see people stand up and take leadership roles,” he said, “They become a family just because they have to spend so much time together.”
This year, 60 members of his band are hard at work perfecting their program titled “Doorways.”
“It’s about the different doors or paths that one chooses in life,” Willis said.
It’s something he hopes will be relatable for both teenagers and the various audiences they’ll be performing for, including the community and competition judges. This year’s program features two eight-foot doors on the field that will be used in various ways to illustrate the crossroads each person comes to in life. Willis admits it’s a bit abstract, but they’re trying to take a happy approach to the program.
“That’s the biggest challenge we face each year — trying to tell that story so people understand it,” he said.
The Indian Land High School band is also made up of a lot of younger students this year. Willis said they have a lot to learn in a short amount of time.
“There’s a lot going on here, they have to play, they have to march, they have to act, they have to perform,” he said.
Indian Land High School’s band will compete for the Upper State Championship on Oct. 21. From there, Willis hopes they’ll finish out the season at the State Championship the following weekend.
Clover: ‘Wings of Hope’
Another local band hoping to do well at the state championship is from Clover High School. Band director Joe Gulledge is starting his third year at the school but has been a band director for 24 years. He said he marvels at the transformation of performances over two-and a-half decades.
“The level of competition is really escalated, and the complexity of the shows, and the themes, and the amount of stuff that is involved in the production is so much more involved,” Gulledge said.
His band participates in its first competition alst week at the Olde English Festival of Bands in Rock Hill. Now it’s a whirlwind of practices and competitions that includes a first for Clover — the Bands of America Regional at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. It’s a national-level competition and the pressure to perform well will be high.
“It’s a new experience for Clover to be exposed to that level of competition, so we’re excited and nervous about our first adventure into that and hoping for good things but understanding that it’s a learning experience as we’re moving forward, and an opportunity for us to grow,” Gulledge said.
He will be directing 161 students in a performance called “Redemption: Wings of Hope.” It’s about fallen angels who return to paradise. Gulledge is excited about the piece and said his students are really embracing it.
“It’s amazing, we are almost to the point where it’s not marching anymore, we are calling it ‘movement,’” he said.
“There is so much more of a dance element that has been incorporated in this now, we literally have dance block with our students where we are teaching them the fundamental dance positions and how to move their bodies in different ways other than left, right, left, right, heel, toe, old school marching.”
Gulledge said the show is essentially an eight and-a-half minute Broadway production, which makes it more relatable for students.
“It’s a little more easy for them to play a character and understand the concept and get behind what we’re doing, and with angels it gives us a lot of options for characterization,” he said.
At the same time, he knows that keeping the connection with the crowds at the home football games is key.
“I’ve always thought that if you’re an audience member and you’re watching you appreciate things a lot better if you get it,” he said, “we want to have audience engagement with the program so that they can appreciate what we’re doing.”
Gulledge hopes to gain more and more community support up until the 5A State Championship on Nov. 4.
“We definitely want to be able to continue to connect with any audience, not just judges at a competition,” he said.
Katie Rutland: firstname.lastname@example.org