Halftime shows take more than musical talent – a whole lot more
By: Carol Enright
They practice over the summer, in the heat and after school. They lug around heavy equipment. They work as a team. And they showcase all that hard work under Friday night lights. They’re not football players, but don’t tell these high school marching band members that they aren’t athletes.
Athletes playing instruments
“We definitely count ourselves as a sport, even though our school might not,” said Lafayette High senior, Sarah Helderle, who plays the marimba in the Lancers’ marching band.
Lafayette junior and drum major, Maddie Beasley, said she thinks her fellow classmates
“underestimate” the pure physicality that it takes to march in the band.
“It’s really athletic, especially when you’re playing an instrument – which takes a lot of lungs – and then you’re moving around on the field so much, too. Especially on hot days, it’s definitely athletic,” said Beasley.
Joel Broddon, a sophomore slide trombone player in the Parkway Central High marching band, doubts that kids who aren’t in the band understand what it takes.
“I don’t think they have any idea, because bands need to make it look so seamless and easy that it could just make anyone say, ‘I could do that. It’s not hard,’” said Broddon.
Beyond the physical demands, Broddon said marching band requires a lot of multitasking.
“You have to play your music. You have to watch the conductors. You have to move your feet and march,” said Broddon.
“I don’t think the kids get enough credit for how athletic an activity marching band is,” said Brad Balog, Lafayette’s head band director.
Balog said it takes a lot of training, endurance and cardiovascular strength to perform the steps and maneuvers required by marching band members.
“They put in a ton of work,” he said.
Balog said his band rehearsed for four weeks during the summer, including attending band camp at Truman State University. He held rehearsals later in the evening to avoid practicing in the heat of day.
Chris Becker, band director at Parkway South High, held practices early in the morning to combat the summer’s heat. Becker said that marching in the band requires “dedication.”
Friday night lights
“They love what they do. There’s a passion behind what they do. But it’s also that dedication to one another and to what they know will be the final product,” said Becker. “They love the actual opportunity to go out and play that show and show off what they’ve done. It’s that really vital combination of camaraderie and showmanship – and, then, just the guts to do it.”
When it comes to football games, Broddon said Central’s band directors “definitely take it seriously.”
“It’s a little more relaxed when you’re in the stands and you’re done performing the show,” he said. “But when you’re out on the field, you have to do everything strict and right on time.”
Beasley said performing at home football games is “a lot of fun.”
“We get to not only cheer on our home team, but then we get the chance to perform,” she said. “And even though some of the people don’t really care – and they’ll talk over us – it’s always fun to have that feeling where you’re under the lights and enjoying the moment.”
Helderle said she likes performing at football games, “but they’re definitely not the best part.”
Competing off the field
Area marching bands will perform in a number of competitions throughout the fall – most will compete in about a half dozen – including the 25th Lafayette Contest of Champions at Lafayette High School on Sept. 29. Up to 24 bands compete at the annual contest, most from Missouri and Illinois. The day begins with a preliminary competition for all bands. Ten bands advance to the finals that evening and one winner is chosen.
Becker said he has seen the level of competition at festivals and contests escalate through the years. When he first started directing 36 years ago, Becker said, “the style of marching that I was acquainted with was what we call precision marching and there was a steady drum beat.”
Today, said Becker, bands have “tuned percussion” with a xylophone and marimba out front. Overall, Becker said today’s bands are “more elaborate” and “more sophisticated. We’re incorporating more and more electronics. We have more variety of instruments.”
Broddon said one of the best parts of competitions is the travel.
“We get to go all over,” said Broddon.
Over the summer, Central’s marching band marched in the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C., and this fall, the band will compete at Missouri State University in Springfield, Mo.
Parkway South will travel to Tulsa, Okla., for a festival in October. And Lafayette’s marching band is headed to Florida over winter break to perform at the Gator Bowl Parade and half-time show.
No matter where they compete or the colors they wear, marching band directors and members agree that at the heart of every marching band is an intense camaraderie and team spirit that unifies its members – both on and off the field.
“Usually, with band kids, we all kind of group together,” said Beasley.