POWHATAN – The Powhatan High School Marching Band is constantly stepping up its game.
Many people love watching the band when they perform for the first time each school year at the Powhatan Labor Day Parade or when attending local football games. Others know their outstanding reputation for marching competition performances throughout the state.
But before any of those great performances can come to fruition, the marching band has to go through a grueling rite of passage – band camp.
From 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday for two weeks before the first week of school, the students who make up the marching band train together to make sure their music, formations, and teamwork are as close to perfect as they can get, said Nicholas Snead, director of bands. The marching band is made up of about 115 students, including wind, percussion and color guard.
“This helps them build repetition because it takes a lot to get this entire show on. This wouldn’t be something they were just able to do in a day. It takes a lot of repetition,” he said.
It also takes hard work and sacrifice, because they are not only giving up their free time but filling it with a great deal of effort, Snead said. More than just music, the students are learning life skills about punctuality, focus, and working with people from different backgrounds and skill sets. Combining all of that to become a unified team is essential to the band, he added.
“Obviously the first day is always like, ‘Oh my gosh, what did I sign up for?” But what keeps them coming back is they have a strong bond with all of the people who are here,” Snead said. “They have enjoyed a little bit of a challenge, but it also is encouraging to know that there are other people who really love music and love doing something different as far as activities. It is combining your athleticism as well as your skill to be able to play your instrument and move and go from here to there at the same time. It is going to that next level of musicianship.”
It’s extraordinarily intensive because the students have to learn the entire musical production, all the choreography, all of the drill, all that has to be learned and be ready to compete at a fairly high level, band director Andrew Snead agreed. But the most difficult thing for them is probably understanding that “yesterday’s excellence is no longer acceptable. A new standard of excellence is set every day. It takes more energy later in the week. It takes more energy at the end of the second week than it did at the end of the first week to do the same thing and to do it with greater excellence every time.”
Putting all of those pieces together over the course of 10-hour days is a really demanding process for the students, but it begins even before that, Andrew Snead said. Leaders start in May handing out music and they get together a couple of times over the summer. But really, “90 percent of the work is done during band camp, and during that time the students are responsible for helping each other.”
“Band camp is such a big part of putting it together. Imagine putting together a Broadway production in essentially 100 hours. They have to memorize as much music as they would play for a concert in concert band. We have students in eighth grade through seniors, and the eighth-graders are held to the same standards as the seniors,” he said.
Drum major Faith Brecht joined marching band in her freshman year and has attended band camp for the last four years. She said she has seen the players progress and become more mature, which she attributes to their passion for music and the strong leadership of the band directors.
In some of the hottest days of the summer, when many of their fellow students are working, on vacation, or relaxing at home, band members are out practicing formations, Brecht said. Pushing through those conditions, it is a challenge not to let it affect their performance.
But on the flip side, seeing them come together either as returning members or new members is always a treat.
“The highlight is definitely getting to know the new members and getting to know veteran members that you didn’t know as well last year. There is a lot of opportunities to get to know people. We have a very long lunch, which we are blessed to have. Also, before and after we do anything, talking to whoever we meet is pretty fun,” she said.
This year, the leadership added a one-day rookie camp the week before band camp to get new members acclimated by going over the basics, Nick Snead said. It was a great opportunity for younger students to mix with the older band members and create strong bonds from the beginning.
Band captain Shea Wright, a senior clarinet player, has been in marching band three years and remembers how intimidating it was to enter band because she focused on sports previously and didn’t really know many people.
“I had a couple of friends and stuck by them. But once I really opened myself up to wanting to get to know other people, it was really welcoming and super easy to talk to them,” she said. “Helping the new, younger students as you go through the years of marching, it definitely makes you feel good. You think, I was also in this position at one time so let me slow myself down and come back and help you because I know how I felt when I was new.”
The friendship building that starts in band camp will help going into the new season, which is embracing the theme “Different Trains.” Brecht said the show’s music and drill movements are more challenging than previous years.
The camp is very intense and involved, covering a great deal of material in a short amount of time, said band captain Keegan O’Hare, a senior alto saxophone player who has been in marching band for four years.
“It’s all really good overall because we do so much and we all do it together. I don’t think there are any bad parts,” he said.
Nick Snead said the results they see from band camp are only possible because of the hard work of the students and the instructors who work with them, including the Snead brothers, Neil Landini, Tony McCain, Jaraun Ransome, James Stegner, Wyndell Wilson, Jabrond Gamble, Brandy Tilman, Sam Fleming, Caleb Freeman, Cody Hinson, Justin Kidd, Ralph Stewart, Katha Lehmann, Lindsay Seeley, and Chris Golden.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.