County marching bands prepare for key competitions

After a full school day, the Mt. Vernon High School band takes the field in the evening for practice. The Band of Marauders will compete Saturday, Oct. 26, at the Scholastic Class State Finals competition. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

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HANCOCK COUNTY — Holding trumpets and clarinets, they crouch low to the ground, like animals creeping in the night. Some move like panthers and gorillas. Others try to glide as bats.

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Greenfield-Central High School’s Cougar Pride Marching Band are working to perfect their best animal impressions — but more importantly fine tune their musicianship skills and movement — over the next two weeks as they prepare for the semi-state marching band competition on Nov. 2 at Pike High School in Indianapolis.

At a regional performance last weekend, the marching band qualified for the Indiana State School Music Association’s semi-state contest. They’re now hoping to advance to state, set at Lucas Oil Stadium on Nov. 9, for the third time in four years. Last year they placed second in Class B. The four classes at the competition are based off school size.

Cougar Pride is one of three high school teams in Hancock County with upcoming band competitions.

Mt. Vernon High School’s Band of Marauders compete Saturday, Oct. 26, at the Scholastic Class State Finals — a contest based on band size and school enrollment — while the New Palestine High School marching band, the Marching Dragons, is setting its sight on the Mid-States Band Association Championships in two weeks.

Eastern Hancock High School’s band does not compete in the statewide contests

Cougar Pride Marching Band

This year’s show for Greenfield-Central, called “The Music of the Night,” focuses on sounds commonly heard in the dark, such as the movements and noises coming from nocturnal animals and other creatures, said Chris Wing, band director. The 160-student band will lead the audience through renditions of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” “Clair de Lune” and “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles.

In one part of the show, the wind ensemble — all students not in the drum line or color guard — stop playing and perform a dance choreographed as if the students were animals. Elliot Lambert, a senior trumpet player, said they have to move low to the ground and act “rough and angry” while drums beat around them. The five-year marching band member said it’s the best show in his high school career.

“We’re taking all these band nerds who have no dance experience … and giving them this crazy, fast technical routine,” Elliot said.

Brooklyn Harpold, a senior drum major, said the band, and its directors, have taken on more difficult music and different visuals and techniques than in the past. The band performs on and around a 60-foot bridge on the field — which band parents spent about 300 hours to build, Wing said.

“We’ve really taken what were doing and kicked it up a notch,” Brooklyn said.

In his eighth year as band director, Wing said this year’s group has been the “easiest” to work with. Over the next few weeks, Wing said they’re focusing on fundamentals and building stamina and strength so the band can remain active throughout the 8-minute show.

“They haven’t shied away from trying new things or pushing to get better,” Wing said.

The goal for the Cougar Pride Marching Band is to win state, but Brooklyn said just making it to the prestigious competition is more important for the marching band.

Band of Marauders

It’s a throwback to the ‘60s and ‘70s for the Band of Marauders. The band’s show boasts bright colors on set and also on the bell bottom pants of the color guard, giving it a “kitschy” look, said Jackie Nason, band director. The concept of the performance, called “Wheel’d,” revolves around three pieces of music with the word wheel, which includes the classic children’s song “Wheels on the Bus.”

Band members roll around around five small stages, designed as wheels, throughout the performance, while a 12-by-3 foot stage with a bright teal fabric containing several multi-colored wheels sits front and center for soloists.

“We use it as a way to elevate performers. It draws your eye,” Nason said. “It’s hard to miss a giant wheel.”

Ethan Cottrell, a junior drum major, said this year’s show is more “open-ended” and “fun” than the past two years. Nason said the marching band’s design staff wanted a concept that “wasn’t overly complicated” and easily understood by students, judges and the audience.

In his third year with the marching band and first year as a drum major, Ethan said he’s had the most emotional connection to this year’s show. Carlie Sanders, a senior trumpet soloist, said the band has had been able to express more through the performance than in past years.

“No matter what placing we get at the finals, I’ll be able to look back and know that I had a lot of fun in the whole season,” Carlie said.

The 88-student Band of Marauders has had a fairly successful season, Nason said. They’ve placed either first or second at each contest since the season began in early September. At the scholastic prelims two weeks ago, the band received a gold rating with distinction in music, visual and effect. That qualified them for the scholastic finals this weekend at Lawrence Central High School.

Nason said the band has supportive parents and community members who have spent hours building props, chaperoning at events, feeding band students and loading up instruments.

“There’s so many working parts to making this machine go,” Nason said. “It literally takes a village.”

Marching Dragons

It was a disappointing ending to the Marching Dragons’ regional competition last weekend — the same contest where Greenfield-Central advanced to semi-state. The New Palestine High School marching band didn’t place well enough to return to semi-state for the second consecutive year.

Jon Carney, the first-year Marching Dragons band director, said although the result was upsetting, it doesn’t change how the ensemble should view its season or final two competitions.

“We feel like we had a really strong performance, and it just wasn’t good enough to move on,” Carney said. “In the eyes of the people that day, it was not enough.”

Marching band competitions aren’t scored like sports, Carney said; the scoring is more subjective.

On Saturday, the 96-member marching band will compete at the Whiteland Invitational, a regular-season contest. Two weeks later, they’ll travel to Ohio for the Mid-States Band Association Championships. Set the same day as state, the competition, divided into classes based on band size, brings in about 90 schools from Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky.

The band in 2018 won the Class AAA Mid-States championship. This year, they compete in Class AAAA.

This year’s show, called “The Climb,” focuses on the challenges of climbing a mountain, Carney said. A few of the songs in the performance include Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb” and “Climb Every Mountain” from the “Sound of Music.”

Alayna Ausbrooks and Rebecca Buchanan, both freshmen on the color guard, said despite not making it to semi-state, they said most band members want to work harder and get better for next season.

“It’s worth it,” Alayna said.

Rebecca said it’s also ironic that this year’s show is about the ups and downs of climbing a mountain. The band has a new director in Carney and the program is continually growing and changing.

“I feel like we’re in the middle of climbing our mountain of chaos,” Rebecca said.

“All the way to the top,” Alayna added.

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