Enquirer Herald

Strike up the band

CLOVER -- Eric Wells leaned back in his chair in the Clover High band office while his rising freshmen practiced marching eight to five -- that's eight steps to five yards -- in the rehearsal room.

"We do have high expectations," said Wells, now in his fifth year as CHS band director. "But if there's going to be a rebuilding year, it's this one."

Those high expectations are the result of the band's 2007 season, when they won the Class 4A state championship awarded by the South Carolina Band Directors' Association.

"Last year was awesome," says section leader Meredith McSwain, who was among the seniors who went back to work last week helping the freshmen learn the basics.

The full band began practicing this week.

Eighteen band members graduated last spring, but with the addition of 45 freshmen, this year's band will be bigger and younger.

"They're doing well," McSwain said of the freshmen.

Senior Zachary Kishpaugh agreed.

"There are some good players in there," Kishpaugh said.

In spite of the challenge of having a younger band, Wells and his designers have come up with a demanding new show.

The production, called "Threshold," is inspired by the art of expressionist Paul Klee, particularly his painting "Viaducts Break Ranks."

"It's about how we're changed as we move through doorways into new spaces," Wells said.

Ten colorful archways will be used to illustrate this as they maneuver across the field and undergo some surprising transformations.

Wells says he prefers non-traditional adaptations of music the audience might recognize, rather than typical band music. The show's music has also been chosen to suit the "Threshold" concept.

"It's weird stuff," Wells jokes.

The repertoire includes excerpts from Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings," Eric Whitacre's "October," and an adaptation of the hymn "Praise to the Lord" by composer Vaclav Nelhybel.

The band is comprised of 126 students; 80 in the hornline, 30 drummers and 16 guard.

Instrument cases and many coolers littered the school's parking lot Monday morning.

The scorching asphalt was marked with yard lines and hash marks to represent the football field as they began work on their routine.

"I love the heat," McSwain said.

But that love was tested on Tuesday, when the high was expected to reach nearly 100 degrees.

"We might go inside early," Wells said, without too much concern.

The veterans know what to expect and the CHS Band Boosters are there to support the students with drinks and first aid, if necessary.

Band students pay annual fees to help with the band's expenses, such as charter buses, uniform cleanings and instrument repairs, but the boosters work hard to keep those fees as low as possible.

"We're doing two fish frys and two barbecues this year," McDermitt said.

In addition, the boosters will run concessions at Clover's football games and for the Carolina Panthers.

The show will premiere at the York County Exhibition on Sept. 13 at Fort Mill High. Also, the band will make trips to five competitions throughout the season.

Hopes are high for another state championship, but for now, there's work to be done in the August sun.

"This is great for my farmer's tan," Kishpaugh grins.