Let the music play: Spotlight on high school bands

They don’t take the field until the latter part of August, but practice begins in the grueling summer heat, well before the first day of school.

Then on fall Friday nights, when it’s game time for many, it’s showtime for the area’s high school bands.

“I feel like what we do is just really cool overall,” said Julia Misel, a senior tenor saxophone player in the Warren High School marching band.

Once as common a feature at football games as cheerleaders, marching bands aren’t as big or as plentiful as they used to be in days gone by.

Belpre High School’s marching band was eliminated in 2008 due to declining participation, although the school has had a pep band at games in recent years. Frontier Local Schools Superintendent Bruce Kidder has mentioned at recent board of education meetings that he’d like to see a pep band at high school athletic events, but that’s still in early planning stages. And Switzerland of Ohio Local Schools recently eliminated the marching band programs at all three of its high schools as part of a series of deep funding cuts.

But some bands in Washington County are seeing their numbers remain stable or even grow.

“For the last five years, we’ve been in the mid-80s to mid-90s each year,” said Ernie Cornell, director of bands for Marietta High School.

That’s up from 58 students when he came to the district in 2007. Cornell said that’s a result of continuing to work to get more students involved in the program – and willing to stay after school for two-hour practices Monday through Thursday, and sometimes on Saturdays.

“It takes a lot of commitment; it takes a lot of time,” he said.

That can be difficult, but Becca Hendershot, a senior member of the Wall of Sound’s flag corps, noted practice doesn’t start until 4 p.m., so students are encouraged to utilize study tables from 2:45 to 3:45.

“So we can’t complain that we don’t have any time to do homework,” she said.

Hendershot and fellow flag corps members said their favorite part of the fall music season is performing in competitions. The band has eight slated for this year, including two days where they will compete in two different events.

Warren freshman clarinet player Taylor Cross is looking forward to her first band competition, Saturday’s Philo Challenge. She said she’s a little nervous but “I’ve heard a lot of great things.”

Warren’s band membership is growing, with 81 students marching this year, compared to 68 last year. Band director Courtney Clark said that’s mainly the result of changing class sizes, as last year’s 13 graduating seniors were replaced by 27 freshmen this year. With another small graduating class and nearly 40 freshmen projected, the band could hit triple digits next year.

But Clark and the older band students don’t leave membership to chance, reaching out through recruitment activities like letting middle school-aged students play with the high school band at a football game and basketball games and making a humorous video to encourage students to join.

“We try to make it look like it is – it’s fun; it’s an exciting part of the school day,” Clark said.

Warren’s band started practicing in July and has after-school rehearsals in addition to class time.

“It’s definitely worth it,” Misel said of the after-school practice. “We do a lot of very good work during that time.”

Waterford High School’s schedule doesn’t allow for marching band practice during the school day. And it would be difficult to get all the members there even if it did, since seventh- and eighth-graders participate to bring the marching total to 18.

Senior mellophone player Jenna Stephan doesn’t mind being part of a smaller group though.

“I love everybody being able to see how small can make such a loud noise,” she said.

Sophomore baritone saxophone player Tiffany Holland said she enjoys performing and the camaraderie that develops among band members.

“They essentially become your second family,” she said.