Get In Formation

Southside marching bands set
to defend their rankings this fall

By Rebecca Berfanger

Fall is a time to awaken all of the senses: the sight of the colors on the leaves, the smell of a crisp bonfire, the taste of fresh apple cider, the touch of the cool breeze, and the sound of high school marching bands ramping up for their competitive seasons at Friday night football games and weekend competitions around the country.

While these hard-working students and their instructors have been practicing since their band camps in the weeks and months before the start of the school year, they will continue to perfect their performances throughout the semester leading up to the Indiana State School Music Association and national finals in November at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Depending on where you or your kids or your friends’ kids went to school, you might already be aware of these three southside marching band powerhouses: Center Grove High School, Greenwood High School (pictured above) and Beech Grove High School. They each have marching bands that, for several years of the last decade or longer in statewide competition, consistently place in the top 10 of their classes, and that’s not to mention the national accolades they’ve racked up.

The band directors at these three schools know they are never guaranteed a spot in the top 10 just because they made it the year before; they all share a drive and a work ethic with their student musicians and are looking forward to the fall semester. They also shared with South their plans for their ISSMA routines. Read on.

Good sports on and off the field

Although they might not get the same recognition as the sports teams, marching band musicians must be as physically fit as the athletes they support. Consider first the stamina it takes to perform; they can’t take timeouts. Marching band members must carry and play an instrument or wave a flag, keep up with the formation, not run into anyone, all while wearing heavy uniforms.

Center Grove High School

Center Grove High School

“We do strength and cardio training … and fundamentals at the beginning of each rehearsal. This type of program will progress and taper as needed for the students to perform at their maximum,” says Kevin Schuessler, director of bands and Center Grove’s music department chairman. He is in his 25th year with the marching band.

“Students learn marching and movement techniques in addition to their musical skills. The color guard learns dance and also develops skills on flag, rifle and saber,” says Greenwood director of bands John Morse, who is starting his 11th year with the program. “Marching band is physically demanding, and students build strength through practicing their skills.”

Marching band also gives students skills that will stick with them long after graduation, says Beech Grove band director Cory Wynn, an alumnus of Beech Grove who’s now in his 15th year at the school as a teacher

“[Marching band] teaches students about leadership, teamwork, hard work, working toward successes and setting goals. We make our kids show up on time, plus they have to be organized and prepared,” Wynn says. “They have to listen and respond to demands and directions. I think a lot of people realize when they finish marching band, the benefits they gained from it make them more appreciative and lifelong fans of the activity.”

Although there are tryouts to determine which position a band member might have, and leadership roles are competitive, all three band directors explain that they try to be inclusive to all students who have an interest in participating and the musical ability. Band directors also credit their teams who work with them and the students to ensure everyone is on the same page. Plus, the students understand their part in keeping up with previous bands that have done well.

“We are in constant competition against ourselves and our standards. There are no cuts from band. Everyone has a role,” says Morse.

Plans for the year

Each of the schools unveiled their performance plans. Beech Grove, which had a little more than 100 students in the band right before the start of the school year, will perform a compilation called “Apples to Oranges.” The medley goes from the dark and brooding music of Modest Mussorgsky’s classical piece, “The Hut of the Baba Yaga,” leading into the ballad of “One Day I’ll Fly Away” from the musical “Moulin Rouge,” ending with closer “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher,” the 1967 R&B groove by Jackie Wilson.

During the performance, even the colors will change with the music, says Wynn. “We start with deep dark red colors and transition to neon orange. We’ll have trees on the field that will glow. Everything will transition from dark to light, from angular to toe-tappy and upbeat music that’s light and fun.”

Beech Grove High School

Beech Grove High School

About 160 Greenwood students will act along with playing music from the Charlie Chaplin movie, “Modern Times,” with some Scott Joplin sprinkled in, says Morse. “Our show is very character-driven. Students will be taking on acting roles in addition to their marching, music and movement. They are very excited about this new layer of responsibility.”

Center Grove’s 135 marchers will start with “One Day I’ll Fly Away” from “Moulin Rouge,” followed by “You Are Wherever Your Thoughts Are,” by Steve Reich, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz,” and “No One to Know One” by Andy Akhio.

“We will be using a similar tarp and backdrop setup as last year. The staged production will be exploring different ways to represent direction,” says Schuessler.

Even after the finals in November, the students will continue to play into the spring semester, Morse says; once marching band ends, the focus switches to concert band, solo and ensemble work, winter guard and winter percussion. “It is a year-round effort to improve musical and visual performance skills,” he says.

The process of orchestrating the next fall competition performance piece starts almost immediately after finals, Schuessler explains. “Design for the show starts in December, and the program starts to be written in March or April. So, it truly is a year-long process for the staff,” he says.

Lifelong connections

As is the case with other team activities, marching band is a second family for the students. Often, the older students will serve as mentors to the younger ones, and the experiences will stick with all marchers for a long time.

“The performance experience they get is hard to describe, but it is powerful and life-changing. Also, the leadership and people skills they get are second to none,” says Morse. “Finally, the camaraderie that is created through the activity is very impactful for most people and creates strong, positive memories and lifelong connections.”

The time and emotion invested drive close bonds and friendships, Wynn says. “I’m still friends with the people I was in marching band with when I was in high school,” he says. “Those experiences of working together, the experiences of successes and failures, you develop a bond and friendship deeper than other social relationships.”

In marching band, students and their parents are likely to find a community that supports their talents and interests, even while navigating the potentially rocky high school terrain. “Those that are still excited about it generally have had great experiences when they were in it,” Schuessler says. “As a parent, many have seen huge growth in responsibility, discipline and maturity during their time in marching band.”