My reward for sitting through 4 quarters of football is getting to watch the marching band, in this case both of them, perform their half time shows. Ironically, half time at a football game may be the worst time to see the half time show: everyone is talking, and moving around, blocking my view and trying their best to drown out the sound of the band. The Orange band performed at the end of the game, with only interested parties hanging around that long to watch, so the audience was quiet and paid attention.
So when we saw that Spotsy High was hosting “Knights Under the Lights,” an invitational competition for area marching bands on Saturday night, we decided to check out the local marching band scene under ideal conditions. We’ve been to a few band competitions before, back in the days when our son played trumpet for Chancellor’s Lightning Regiment Marching Band, but this was the first one we’ve been to where we didn’t have a vested interest in the outcome. So we watched, and took notes, and did a little judging on our own.
First up were the smallest “A” division bands (up to 50 members), from Louisa, Caroline and our own JM. It was good to see a repeat of JM’s performance, this time with a perfect view and an attentive and respectful audience. Their “Jayem Mystery Tour” was well done, with a version of Bohemian Rhapsody that we really enjoyed. Good color guard, nice choreography, solid marching—we had them as the winners of their division.
Next up were the AA bands (51-70 members), all from the local area: Stafford, Brooke Point, Chancellor, and North Stafford. All of them had solid shows, and we were thrilled to have the chance to see Chancellor’s show, since we won’t have a chance to see them at home this season. But for creative concept, you just can’t beat Stafford’s “Grease” show. In fact, if you can only see one local marching band this fall, this is the one to see. Talk about “Best Execution of a Theme.” Props included a Rydell High School backdrop, a beauty salon backdrop and an actual classic car on the field. The drum majors, dressed as a prim teacher and young bobby soxer, opened the show with a dramatic flair, as the entire band streamed out from behind the high school facade. The color guard wore poodle skirts, and for “Beauty School Dropout,” carried oversized brushes and mirrors, instead of the usual flags. The percussion section was dressed in leather jackets, and even the pit crew (the adult volunteers who set up the equipment, percussion and props) were outfitted in white T-shirts and shades. Comic touches and unexpected choreography made this whole show a real crowd pleaser. The other schools did excellent jobs as well, but this band was definitely the show stopper of their division, and we gave them the win, on the basis of pure entertainment value.
Up last were the big boys, the AAA bands with 71-95 members (there are 2 band divisions even higher, but I’ve never seen any), including our own Riverbend, plus northern Virginia’s Woodbridge, C.D Hylton, W.T. Woodson, and Potomac. Most of these bands play very traditional shows, with the emphasis on precision marching and solid musicianship. My favorite color guard of the night was Woodson’s, whose show was “Victory at Sea.” Giant banners resembling waves, fabric seagulls flapping in the breeze, and white fringed flags evoking wind really helped illustrate the nautical theme. But our favorite show of this division was Hylton’s “Night Out on the Town.” This marching band’s sound was outstanding, with a terrific big band arrangement that was so well played, I would have enjoyed the show even if the band had been standing still. Really concert quality musicianship, precision marching, and some fancy footwork for good measure added up to a top-notch show.
Spotsylvania HS, one of the smaller bands, finished the show with an exhibition performance. We didn’t wait around for the judging and handing out of awards, since this can take a very long time. There are individual awards for drum majors, drum lines, marching, color guard, music, and more I’m sure, and after more than 3-1/2 hours in the stands, it was time to go. So I don’t know if the judges agreed with us or not...probably not. But our overall Best in Show was C.D. Hylton, which edged out Stafford HS by a slim margin. As entertaining and fun to watch as Stafford’s show was, we had to give the nod to the Hylton band, who presented a traditional field show which displayed excellence in every aspect of marching band performance.
Kudos to the students from all of the schools on a job well done. Now if only football games were a little more halftime show, and a little less football.
James Monroe High School: