Thursday night at French Field: an evening with the marching band

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Thursday night at French Field: an evening with the marching band

The brass feature amazes the crowd as the marching band  performs their halftime show.

The brass feature amazes the crowd as the marching band performs their halftime show.

Liam H. Flake

The brass feature amazes the crowd as the marching band performs their halftime show.

Liam H. Flake

Liam H. Flake

The brass feature amazes the crowd as the marching band performs their halftime show.

By Liam H. Flake, Fossil Ridge High School

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“Hey, band! Let’s meet on the 50.”

It’s 3:56 P.M. 84 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. The band is wrapping up a quick 45-minute rehearsal before the night’s Varsity Football game. At the conclusion of this practice, the students gather around band director Meghan Muñoz just south of the Fossil Ridge High School’s staff parking lot to go over some brief notes before proceeding to pack their equipment up for transportation. Their performance at the game will serve as a rehearsal for a more important event, as they prepare for their upcoming competition at Legacy High School. Time is of the essence; in a deviation from the typical circumstances, the game is taking place on a Thursday, pushing up the start time. (“Out of my whole high school career, there’s been one Thursday game, but this year we have two,” clarinet section leader Nia McGregor states. “It’s kind of weird.”)  And, of course, there is plenty to do.

“Gotta move with some…”

“Purpose,” all 167 members of the Fossil Ridge Marching Band reply in unison.

With this, the crowd disperses. Students put away instruments and move towards the doors to the school’s arts wing, gathering water bottles and instrument cases and preparing for performance. When they step off the buses at French Field, they must have their uniforms on and hair up.

“What are you doing?”

“Rushing.”

Alanna Jones, along with several other students, has broken apart the fountain that serves as the centerpiece for the band’s show and is now hastily pushing a portion of the prop along towards the school. There, it will be loaded onto a rental truck by parent volunteers and transported to French Field.

The band joins together singing in the bleachers their rendition of “Hey Baby”.

***

4:49 P.M. The flute and clarinet sections are huddled once more by the south side of the staff parking lot, chatting and waiting. Two busses are lined up and filled with students; the third has yet to arrive. In the meantime, the remaining students enjoy a moment to converse with friends.

In the last 50 minutes, the kids have eaten dinners throughout the area surrounding the school’s Performing Arts Center. Many students now sport small drawings of the band logo on their hand or wrist, provided in Sharpie by Nick Foster.

Eight minutes later, the third bus arrives. The waiting students file on and find a seat with their friends. Muñoz makes a stop on each, briefing them on the evening’s plan. Then, the performance-bound busses depart, with the prop-filled Penske trucks following behind.

***

At 5:42 P.M, the busses arrive at Rocky Mountain High School, pulling into a dusty parking lot northeast of the football field (a private place, opposite of the public parking lot and entrance). Moving into the stadium, the band forms an arc on the north edge of the field, beneath the towering field goal. They go through long tones and harmony chords, warming up. Tonight, they have been asked to play as the team comes out—accordingly, they line up in two sections, forming a tunnel, as Munoz gives directions. Senior and trumpet section leader Aaron Lucas is ready. “I’m feeling pretty good. Pretty confident.”

The guard scurries to set their equipment.

“Hey, band.”

“Hey what?”

“For the national anthem, face the box. Don’t fall apart like we did on Fight Song.”

The football team lines up behind the giant inflatable sabercat that serves as their entryway. The band plays “Fight Song” as the team follows flag bearers through the tunnel.

When the parade concludes, the band shuffles toward the bleachers, senior drum major Dawson Keally taking the platform. And thus, with 30 seconds left on the clock until the start of the game, the anthem plays, a patriotic opener complete with drum rolls and the crash of cymbals. The band faces the box. They hastily transition into another quick rendition of “Fight Song.”

They exit north.

***

The band flows into their fourth of the bleachers, taking their places and settling in. Here, they do the “Yell” chant with the cheerleaders—those with instruments mimic the movements as best they can with a single hand.

Lucas’s prior confidence in the new opening ceremony was not misplaced. “The thing on the field went pretty well,” he reflects. Dane Harnisch, a Senior saxophonist, shares these sentiments. “It was pretty cool, like, seeing everybody rush in front of me,” he remarks. “I don’t know. It was just a cool experience since we haven’t done that before.”

In the back, a group of four trombone players are joking amongst themselves, laughing about something.

Jessica Wang, another neighboring trombone player, is more focused on the game, remarking how the other team is showing considerable success.

Suddenly, the band breaks into song—but this time, instead of employing their instruments, they start singing. The song is one from their pep band repertoire, a vocal piece entitled “Hey Baby” derived from a 1950’s tune made popular in Dirty Dancing. “There are three people that play, and the rest of the band basically screams, at the top of their lungs, the lyrics,” Halle Crawford explains. The song is one that has been one that the band has played at games for a long while and comes up typically at least thrice per game (it comes up frequently because it is so easy to sing). “It’s basically just, like, chaotic energy the entire time and all of us are just having the time of our lives.”

Meanwhile, the color guard has taken a reprieve from the activities of the rest of the band. On the dimly lit asphalt between the bleachers and the locker rooms, they are taking a moment to practice their routine. They are going through part four of the show, which they learned earlier this week. “It will definitely be cleaner later in the season. But for now, it is mostly clean and mostly full,” color guard member Mia Pillote provides. The color guard would normally be practicing during this time on the field behind the bleachers; however, for some unknown reason, they are not supposed to be out there tonight, relocating them to this area. It serves as an interesting practice space. “It gets dark,” Pillote explains. “And the students stomp… hard. Very hard. Rattles… like thunder. Very, very difficult to count over students screaming, but we love it. It’s fun back here.”

At the conclusion of the first quarter, baton twirler Katie Harris takes the field for a quick performance. The band watches, fascinated. Observing the performance from the front of the bleachers is Molly Bruggeman. “I’m bedazzled,” she laughs to her friends.

Six minutes are left on the clock for the quarter. Band students, instruments in hand, flood out of the bleachers, down the stairs and past the amber lit concession stand lines, arriving in the asphalt passageway just beyond the locker rooms. They form rows six across, filling the space outlined by chain-link fences. Directed by Munoz, they march—forward, then backward, then forward again, going back and forth in militaristic synchronization.

Finishing this quick warm-up, they move onto the track north of the field. The pit hesitates for a second, unsure of their next direction.

“Should we go out there with them?”

“No. Actually, yes.”

The sun is setting just as the band takes the field.

It is now 6:47 p.m. All band members form a purposeful arc at the base of the scoreboard. The sun is setting, creating pale pastels on the horizon that are reflected in the brass of trombones and sousaphones. The air is cooling off, as it does as autumn sets in. With Munoz at the center, the band begins a sonorous long tone. Instruments, all the components of the arc, melt into one resonant crescendo. Instruments drop out, isolating the clarinet section, then join in again, then isolate the trumpet section. They go through all sections, completing their tuning sequence. Drums play one at a time down a line.

“Go to the end, part four.”

The music lights up, vibrant. The drums can be felt in one’s gut. As they play their vibrant melodies, they start to take small steps in place, forward, backward. Each student swings their legs outward in synchronization, playing out their performance in place.

The color guard huddles just off the sideline, forming their “hype up circle.” This is a tradition practiced before every performance. From a distance, they can be heard chanting, repeating after the coach; the message varies from show to show, but always begins with “I’m good at what I do and I’m really good at this,” and always ends with “I’m good at what I do and I’m really good at this. We are Fossil Ridge 2019.”

The band has concluded their warm-up and now takes to the field. They walk to the side of the field opposite the main bleachers, form an arc, and scatter. A few trumpets and trombone players break off, grabbing microphones on stands and placing them at the front of the field. Each student takes their place, and with a brief introduction, they begin to play.

***

“It was hard. It’s harder than people think. I think we did pretty good. The uniforms are really sweaty.”

Jessica Wang reflects on the performance as the band walks back to the busses. By now, the sun has gone down, leaving the secluded bus lot and the path thereto quite dark.

By the time most students have arrived at the lot, they huddle around Muñoz. From beside the chain-link fence, she addresses them, debriefing them on the most current news.

“It was a good run. Best of the day.”

This praise is met by applause.

“You need to sleep tomorrow. Because if you do not take care of yourself on Saturday, you will not have your best day. Dig?”

“Dug,” dozens of voices reply.

“Now, there’s some snacks and water for you, because [the parent volunteers] love you.”

“We love you too,” a few voices to the side chirp in, and invoke laughter throughout the crowd.

“Make sure you take all your stuff off, and take it properly, before you get snacks. Dig?’

“Dug.”

The students disperse onto the busses on which they arrived, shedding their uniforms in favor of more comfortable attire underneath—band tees and shorts, for most. Meanwhile, parent volunteers cut open boxes with all varieties of individually packaged snacks, Cheez-Its and Goldfish and Rice Krispie Treats, among others, and lay them out in front of the busses. A card table in the center supports a Gatorade cooler filled with water. One parent, Julie Grillo, steps onto each bus, describing the snacks available.

“You know the drill: one salty, one sweet. If you can’t have gluten, see me at the front of the bus.”

The Fossil Ridge Marching Band will compete in the Colorado State Band Competition at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs on October 29, 2019.

One by one, students exit the busses in casual attire. They go through the line, carefully selecting their snacks and munching on them in the piercing headlights of the busses.

“This is all dinner is?” one student asks, disappointed.

“You were supposed to eat dinner at Fossil,” a compatriot replies.

Students slowly trickle back to the bleachers, snacks in hand, casting fluorescent shadows in their removed back passage. On their way, they pass the Penske trucks, into which the parent pit crew is now loading the disassembled pieces of the Fountain. Some students make a quick stop by the concession stand before returning to their places in the bleachers.

It is now 8:44 p.m. In the leisure of their comfortable outfits, band kids wrap their arms around each other and return to their pep band duties with another rendition of “Hey Baby.”

***

Back at Fossil, everyone scrambles to put everything into its proper place before they leave. Parents and students unload the Penske trucks, moving the Fountain pieces into their designated storage. In the dimly lit comfort of the band hall, students chat and laugh with each other, gathering up some belongings and shoving others into band lockers.

Outside, a line of idling cars forms along the edge of the west parking lot, as parents wait to pick up their kids, taking them home before an inevitable return to the unending activities of the band.

This story was originally published on Etched in Stone on October 18, 2019.