High school band hits all the right notes
Chris Rossi/The Gazette
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When the marching band takes to the field at James Hubert Blake High School in Cloverly Friday for the opening football game against Montgomery Blair High School, the 110 members will be as practiced as the football team and ready for a winning performance.
"We really believe in outstanding football game performance," Brian Damron, Blake's band director, said.
To get ready, the group met for band camp for one week in mid-August, with daylong sessions spent practicing marching techniques and becoming familiar with the music the group will play throughout the season.
During the school year, band members take music classes and the band meets once a week for a long evening rehearsal.
"Every musician in this school is involved in the marching band," Damron said.
Damron's theory is that being in the band gives students extra practice time and helps them become more familiar with their instruments.
More than 70 percent of the band is made up of returning members. New students pick up techniques from the veterans.
The benefits of being part of the group more than make up for the extra time required, said Sarah Peko-Spicer, 16, a senior and the drum major.
"I've made most of my friends in marching band, and as drum major I get to meet people I [otherwise] wouldn't," she said.
As drum major she runs much of the band's rehearsals, under Damron's watchful eye. Although the job means she does not play her clarinet with the group, she considers what she does a lot of fun and knows it is valuable experience for later in life.
"It is great for college, [providing] leadership and performance," Damron said.
Ninth-grader Isaac Appel, 14, has been playing saxophone since fourth grade and was excited to be in the marching band.
"I heard that it was like the best band in the county and I knew it would be good to be in this marching band," he said. "I'm most excited just being a part of it."
Appel found band camp challenging but said he was getting better every day. He added that Damron makes the practices more entertaining.
"He's very funny," Appel said.
As if hearing his cue, Damron interrupted the band's rehearsal by shouting, "My grandmother can move faster than that … my cat is louder than that."
He quickly got the group back on track, exalting them to perform "with pride, energy, excitement, sparkle … whatever," and the music and marching started again.
"Sometimes we struggle, but once we get out the jitters of the first game we do fine," Damron said.
The band does so fine in fact that last year it was invited to perform at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. Damron is hoping to get a bid to another major event this year.
The band also plays in many local parades and events, including Burtonsville Day, the Silver Spring holiday parade, the St. Patrick's Day parade in Washington, D.C., and the Rockville Memorial Day parade.
"We are all about community involvement," Damron said.
Damron said they have gone to competitions but not anymore.
"We no longer had fun," he said. "It's not our goal to compete, although we always win best band at all the parades we are in."
In spite of Damron's lively personality he pushes his students to the forefront of the band. In addition to allowing Peko-Spicer to lead practices, he has a hierarchy of students who take responsibility for different aspects of the performances.
"With a band this big you need more than one [person] to command it effectively," said Brian Yang, 17, a senior piccolo and flute player.
They are anxious for the halftime show.
"You do all the hard work and then you go out to the football field," said Katie Molek, 17, a senior tenor saxophone player. "It's dark and the lights are on and it's sparkly and there's all those people. You've done the work and you get to perform."