High school football games wouldn’t be the same without dazzling half-time performances by marching bands.
Spectators sing, clap and dance along with the tunes, but few understand how much effort goes into that 8-minute show.
“It is a lot of work,” Lakeside High School Band Director Jim Tau said. “Unless you’ve been in a band, you have no idea what all goes into that.”
Every drum beat, every flash of the brass instruments, every note and every heeled turn is methodically planned and practiced.
Planning the shows, which average 7 to 9 minutes, take about that many months to organize and perfect.
“We started putting our heads together in January,” Tau said of his band’s show - themed “Of Good and Evil.”
“We started coming up with show themes and ideas.”
Tau, along with many band students, brain-stormed at least once a week in January. They narrowed down the theme in February and started coming up with ideas for music and how to perform it.
“We really get good participation,” Tau said of the planning process.
During the next few months, Tau and the students put together a collection of music and have it custom-arranged for the band.
“You have to write for your band, your ensemble, for your strengths and weaknesses,” Tau said.
He and his students spent the spring and summer meticulously planning how to illustrate the constant conflict between good and evil, paying attention to every detail from intonation to each band member’s costume.
Michael Katterjohn, director of Greenbrier High School’s marching band, also starts planning long before football season.
“The juniors choose the music for their senior year,” Katterjohn said.
Some band directors buy drill charts that detail every band member’s movement through the show, while others, like Katterjohn, use staff members to design the drill.
Band members meet regularly, usually once or twice a week, all summer to perfect the music and some drill moves.
Then there’s band camp, also know as boot camp for marching band members. Just before the start of school, band members flock to their respective schools to spend up to 12 hours a day practicing marching fundamentals and learning the show.
They don’t relax on the grass football field, but spend most camp days smoldering on black asphalt parking lots.
“Every class period is devoted to the show,” Katterjohn said. “Every day, there’s after-school rehearsals.”
Some days, the band auxiliary practices, other days the musicians in the band. But usually, someone is practicing, Katterjohn said.
Practice isn’t the only reason the marching bands dazzle. Healthy competition and rivalries between Columbia County high school marching bands fuels band members’ motivation to work hard and look good.
“It drives us,” Tau said. “It’s nice that Columbia County has a strong tradition of strong marching band programs.”
That rivalry is friendly, not bitter and band members tend to work extra hard and polish their moves when they know they’ll be facing another local school.
Most of the school bands also participate in marching band competitions in the fall. Evans High has a separate competition band, while the others use their marching band to compete.
“We talk about pride and all that stuff,” Katterjohn said. “What it looks like when we go to competitions, how judges are going to look at it.”
Band members practice and perform regularly through Christmas, even bringing Christmas carols to the local holiday parades.
“There’s so much to it,” Tau said. “People don’t realize all the work that goes into an 8 or 9 minute show.”
For Tau, it’s watching the finished product that keeps him directing.
“To me, that’s the greatest reward: (seeing them) perform and perform at a high level,” Tau said. “It just touches my heart.”