02 October 2011
The scene is mild chaos. A football field of dropped batons, sharp painful horns blaring, low floundering tubas thumping, laughing teenagers. “Erin, why are you way over there? You’re supposed to be next to Austin!” “Let’s change that to 16 counts.” “Krystal, where are your shoes?”
Finally, after an hour and a half, Mike Strickler, the Fluvanna County High School band teacher calls the rehearsal over, and the group of sweaty teenagers gather around him.
“It’s a rough copy of what we need,” said Strickler. “We have three more rehearsals. There’s whole lot that needs to be cleaned up in there. Remember your steps should be 22.5 inches apart and you only have 24 counts to get to your spot.”
By the next home football game, the marching band number will be clean, precise and entertaining. And between now and then this rag-tag band of 31-members will have spent about as much time in rehearsal as the football team does in practices.
“Sometimes people say, ‘oh band, right. You just play some music.’ But they don’t think about how you think about steps or how much control you put into it,” said Brass Captain Krystal Soler, who plays the baritone horn. “But it’s like any other sport. You have to practice so many hours a week, so many times a day to get the results you want.”
In fact, marching band is a lot like any other sport at Fluvanna County High School. In addition to the five and a half hours of practice as a group per week, most band members will also use their Blue & Gold time (a mid-day study hall) to practice as well – sometimes practicing up to 12 hours a week.
“It requires a lot of practice, memorizing music, because we can’t have music on the field,” said senior Ashlyn Pollard, who has played seven different instruments in the band. “I practice whenever I can during free time at school.”
The marching band performs at each home football game, at four Saturday district-wide competitions and at a state assessment. “It’s like watching any other show on TV,” said Soler. “It gives you a good feeling, you watch it, you leave and you were entertained.”
“At state assessment, there is a ranking of one to five. One is superior, which is what we’re always shooting for,” said drum major and senior Miranda Woodson. “It means you’re consistent, have good visuals, good music and it blends perfectly. That’s what we’re always shooting for.”
Like sports, band members also have to maintain a C-average or higher to participate. The drum major, Woodson, is like the team captain – constantly reminding her team to have pride, stay hydrated, maintain focus and keep their grades up. They also face the pressure of an ever-changing roster.
Strickler learned this early on in his career at FCHS. His first year, four years ago, was the year after the Fluvanna County marching band had won the national championship of the United States Scholastic Band Association (USSBA). Three students from that group were invited to participate in the Great American Marching Band in the 2006 Macy’s Day Parade, the band performed at the Kennedy Center, and the National Symphony Orchestra treated them to free pizza.
“The older students already knew they were good,” said Strickler. “But each year is different. Sometimes, if we have a lot of new people or we lose a lot of experienced people, we have to relearn everything. The students now have less of a superiority complex. They feel like they have to earn it.”
But sometimes working to earn it just isn’t enough, especially when it comes to funding. Even after the immediate success of winning a National Championship, the band had insufficient funds to successfully field additional color guards and drum lines. Now, five years later, the Fluvanna County marching band has no money at all budgeted for them.
“My first year here I had a set budget,” said Strickler. “Every year since then we don’t have money until the end of the year. We fund raise everything, and each student has their own fundraising account.”
That’s one way that the marching band is not like your typical sport. To play a Fluvanna County school sport, each athlete must pay $60 per season. To play in the marching band, you have to raise funds.
“My goal is to never have a kid who can’t do it because they can’t pay,” said Strickler.
The band has finished its fall fundraiser selling flower bulbs from Dutch Mill Bulbs. It will be selling fruit in November and December.
Further cuts to arts education at the elementary level this year has Strickler worried about the students coming up from lower grades, who will only be receiving 15 days of music class throughout the school year.
“I was blown away, and upset by that – terribly so,” said Strickler. “We actually have music SOLs (Standards of Learning), but we don’t test them. There are 15 different SOL bullets in a typical elementary curriculum. They’re only meeting 15 times all year and in that time they have to introduce these topics, master them and hope they retain what they learn from class. That’s really going to affect us down the line when our kids get up to this age.”
And for kids like Ashlyn Pollard, not being exposed to music at an early age would have changed her life trajectory. Pollard, who doesn’t come from a musical family, was taught the clarinet in school at age nine, and now plays bassoon, oboe, xylophone, marimba, vibraphone, trumpet and French horn. She wants to go to college for music next year and someday aspires to be in a professional band.
“It was the best decision of my life to join this band,” said Pollard. “It’s awesome. We’re all just so similar; we have a lot in common. It’s cheesy, but music brings us together.”