CLOVER -- What do "Ave Maria," Leonard Bernstein's "Jeremiah Symphony" and high school football have in common?
It may be an odd mix on paper, but for Clover High School's marching band, it has been a recipe for musical magic and sweet success.
The band orchestrated a first-place win in Saturday's Upper State AAAA championship -- a prize that eluded the school for more than 20 years. In doing so, it advanced to the state championship this weekend at Batesburg-Leesville High School southwest of Columbia.
Unique lineup of music
Listing the band's repertoire alone is bound to turn some heads.
"You say that to people, and it's almost like, 'Are you kidding me? What's that all about?'" said Ron Wright, Clover High principal.
If that wasn't unique enough, the band director threw in an oboe -solo for the first two sections of the show.
The program is appropriately called "Antithesis."
"That means, in itself, opposition or contrast," said Eric Wells, the band's director. "We're trying to show contrast musically and visually throughout the production."
Although the basic patterns stay the same throughout the competition season, Wells said they add different elements from week to week to enhance the show.
The last time the school won an Upper State competition was in 1986, school officials said. But that was in a different division with smaller schools.
For a band that's in just its second year in Class AAAA, Wells is pleased with the results.
"I feel like the band has gotten a little better each year," he said. "We're happier, simply because we're competing in a more prestigious division."
The 108 students in Clover's band worked hard by practicing every week for up to 12 hours, marching and playing instruments so their skills could match the music given to them, Wells said.
"This group probably has the best work ethic of any group I've ever taught," Wells said.
Drum major Sydney Smith said it's been an amazing year.
"Not to be biased on our band or anything, but we've got a really good show this year," said Smith, a senior.
Smith loves playing music and conducting, but she said it's the camaraderie among the band members that makes it all worthwhile.
"We've been working really hard, and I'm really proud of all the progress we've made," Smith said. "We're up against some hard people, but I'm sure we'll do well at the state (championship)."
Dylan Ross, a sophomore mellophone player, also has confidence in the band.
Winning the Upper State title was an incredible experience, he said.
"I really love the show this year," he said. "I think we have a really good chance of getting first (at the state) this year," he said.
Wright, a former
.band director, has attended all the band competitions and has been amazed at the performances.
"The abilities of the musicians just lined up so well with the program that was designed for them," Wright said.
The band's success has been based on that "intangible" combination of music, marching and the students' ability, he said.
"I don't think it's necessarily because we have better kids or better players," he said. "I just think that this show and this group of kids just merge together with it."
The show is incredibly artistic with complicated pieces, he said.
"I think the crowd can really appreciate the artistry and musicianship and the pageantry of the visuals," Wright said. "It does reach to them, and everyone is able to appreciate it."
Whether the band wins the state championship on Saturday isn't important, Wells said.
"It's never about winning," he said. "It's always been about the process. If you buy into the process and work hard and your work ethic is better than anybody else, then you have a chance to be successful in the end."
Mascot: Blue Eagle
Colors: Navy blue and gray
Number in band: 108
Band director: Eric Wells
Color guard: Alicia Rudd
Drum major: Sydney Smith
Assistant drum major: Joe Wright
Assistant leaders: Ann Lewis, Caroline Warren and Paul Clayton
Most recent success: Took first in the 4A Upper State Championship Oct. 21.