It really was by accident.
When band director Lynn Lewis decided to create an Area 51-themed field show for the Granite Bay High band, she and her staff members had no idea about the Race to Area 51 meme that would gain massive amounts of online popularity just a month later.
On Memorial Day when the band had its show reveal, Lewis announced to her students the alien-based theme for the 2019 season.
“Two years ago, we were discussing what something controversial might be and what we could go from there,” Lewis said, “Wade threw out the idea about Area 51.”
At first Lewis thought there wasn’t anything to be done with “a show about nothing.” But after a bit more consideration, she changed her mind.
The show follows the story of townsfolk who begin to wonder what is it that lies inside of Area 51, with all the rumors of aliens circulating around the military base. Tension grows when they’re kept out of Area 51 and are prevented from getting into the base and learning its secrets.
The drumline, front ensemble and drum majors will be dressed as men in black, reminiscent of the original movies. The music from the show features melodies from the movies “Men in Black” and “The X-Files,” and it includes modern musicians such as the band Radiohead and singer Alanis Morisette.
The deep-set dynamics of the show and “controversial” themes in the production, as Lewis puts it, are what is needed to win for the 2019 season. However, just five years ago, this was almost unseen in the marching band world.
“It’s gone from what you’d usually expect, which is an old military drum and bugle corps that would march in a straight line with full brass and percussion, and for a time that’s what it was on the football field,” said senior Nick Sanchez, a sousaphone player in the Emerald Brigade.
His sophomore year of high school and after one year of marching with the Emerald Brigade, Sanchez auditioned for the Drum Corps International, or DCI, which are elite marching bands. He auditioned for the one DCI band in Sacramento, the Sacramento Mandarins.
“Slowly, it turned into concept shows and story shows, where the entire show would tell a story or express an individual concept,” Sanchez said. “In 2016, a corps called the Bluecoats did a show called “Down Side Up,” which really changed the entire landscape of DCI because that was when the activity began to move away from traditional marching. It has slowly morphed into a more dance-based than marching-based activity.”
With DCI marching bands setting the standard for all field-based marching band shows, the changes in competition being made in DCI are showing through in high school competitions.
“I definitely see it trickling into band, but in a much slower sense,” Sanchez said, “mainly due to the types of staff we’re capable of providing for all of the students here.”
Though the number of available staff members hasn’t proven to be an issue for the Emerald Brigade – they’re already ahead of the game. While competition is changing for marching bands all across the country, the Emerald Brigade has been forced to adapt because of many factors.
“Our brass numbers are a lot smaller this year and that’s due to students graduating,” Lewis said,“We just didn’t get a lot of incoming new members.”
This year, there are a total of 12 members in low brass, eight in trumpets and five in mellophones. In comparison to last year, the band had 19 members in low brass, 12 in trumpets and eight in mellophones.
The balance issue comes in when percussion is suffering from an overflow of members.
Because of that overflow, the band’s first-ever cymbal line has been formed, featuring freshmen Amanda McCarthy and Aurora Jackson, and sophomore Brady Holmes.
So even though the band is scraping for low-brass members, percussion isn’t expected to be an issue for the next four years.
“Competition is really hard with a small low-brass section, because the whole balance of the band is based on low brass,” Lewis said, “It makes it really hard to succeed musically with a small low brass.”
Even with these imbalances, the Emerald Brigade has persisted with positive attitudes and a mindset set for success.
“Things this year are going really well,” said senior Amanda Batiste, who serves as the president of the Emerald Brigade. “Everyone has a super positive attitude, which is so nice. The freshman class is doing really well, too.”
Batiste said that after a season of negativity, the 2019 marching season has started out with strong camaraderie and much closer bonds between the freshmen and seniors than there had been in previous years.
“You need to be a positive force, and everyone needs to encourage others to have that positivity – and I want to make people feel welcomed and accepted,” Batiste said. “I want to make sure that everybody knows each others’ names.”
This year, with the unique struggles the band has been facing – from the shortage of brass, the overflow of percussion, and the necessary morale boost – the hard work has been doubled, and yet, the band is doing better than ever.
Going forward in the season, the students are already eager for competition and for showcasing what “Area 51” has to offer. With an all-new depth to their marching show, they’re ready to see how they’ll score.
“I’m excited and I’m hopeful,” junior Jake Russell said. “We have a cool show with a fantastic concept, and having done so many competitions already, I feel like it’s no sweat and we can easily win our first few upcoming competitions.”
For many students, the band has become a major part of their life. It’s become their primary friend group, their main hobby and where many of them spend the majority of their time.
Many students consider the band room to be like a second home to them. It’s a safe space and a support net to fall back on when times get tough.
Through band, students have been taught many life lessons, such as time management, leadership skills, practice skills and how to have passion and pride for the things they’ve accomplished.
The Emerald Brigade’s first competition and official production of their 2019 show will be held Oct. 12 at Oakmont High School.
This story was originally published on GraniteBayToday.org on September 27, 2019.