Keeping With Tradition

Performers strengthen their bonds by passing down rituals from year to year to welcome members, celebrate the season, and say goodbye to seniors.

In 1967, Gail Royer, the director of the Santa Clara (California) Vanguard Drum and Bugle Corps, began a tradition. The corps honored age-out members at its last competition by replacing a white feather in their Aussie hats with a green one. Front ensemble performers who do not wear an Aussie hat pinned the green feather behind the Vanguard Star on their uniforms. Color guard members also received a green feather. This final competition tradition continues to this day with Vanguard members proudly wearing their green feathers at Drum Corps International World Championships.

keeping-with-tradition-2Senior Goodbyes

In 2005, beginning with its first three graduates, the Vista Murrieta (California) High School Marching Band and Guard established its own similar tradition. “To honor our graduating members, the band and guard presented our seniors with a white carnation at their final competition,” says Craig Lobnow, booster co-president. “Often the parent [or a friend] pins the carnation to the member’s uniform.”

More often than not, Vista Murrieta’s white carnation tradition has taken place at an out-of-town location, such as Fresno, California, for the Western Band Association’s Grand Championships or St. George, Utah, for a Bands of America (BOA) regional event. “This year will be extra meaningful to our seniors as they will wear their carnations at their last competition: the BOA Grand National Championships in Indianapolis,” Lobnow says.

The Rancho Cucamonga (California) High School Marching Cougars also honor seniors at the last competition of the year, says Beth Williams, a parent to one graduated and two current members. Williams’ oldest daughter participated in color guard while her younger daughter currently plays marimba and her son plays tuba.

“We participate in [WBA] championships each year,” Williams explains. “The first night after practice the kids eat dinner, followed by senior speeches. The seniors all have the opportunity to address their fellow bandmates and pass on advice or remind them of all the hard work or tell a funny story. This is always a fun and sentimental time for the kids.”

Post-Season Celebrations

The Mt. Pleasant (Iowa) High School Panther Marching Band marks the end of each season in a similar manner by hosting a special breakfast. Food and décor parallel the theme of the band show. For example, this year’s “Pippen” show had a circus theme, so centerpieces for the end-of-season breakfast used a popcorn bucket filled with various goodies, and volunteer food servers dressed up like clowns.

Awards are handed out; some are serious, but most are of a humorous nature, including this year’s “most likely to join a circus,” says Dave Schneider, a current volunteer. “The humorous awards are voted on by the students a few days in advance. The director creates several videos using photos and [clips] from throughout the fall. A few of those videos are short clips featuring the drumline and the staff, and they’re always funny.”

The breakfast also honors the performers who are graduating, Schneider said. “A video tribute to the seniors is shown with a baby picture and a current picture of each senior.”

At Randolph (Massachusetts) High School, the members of the winter guard program celebrate the end of the season with a potluck dinner. A slideshow highlights moments from the season, and the students watch a video of their final performance. And then … there’s what booster Michelle Tyler calls the “turtle.”

“What’s the turtle? It’s a white paper plate on a string that is hung on the back of each unit member,” Tyler explains. “Every member writes one positive word about that person on his or her plate. I call them ‘turtles’ because they look like turtle shells while it’s being done.”

keeping-with-tradition-3Bonding Moments

While many marching arts traditions mark the end of a season, many ensembles hold traditional events throughout.

At Rancho Cucamonga, the Cougar Band Council has a special to kick off the marching season. “The Band Council is busy all field season with bonding events and ways of welcoming new kids,” Williams says. “They make goodie bags and give them to the freshmen and new band members the Friday before the first competition during the school day, usually during second period.”

The Band Council also organizes a scavenger hunt as a teambuilding event sometime in the middle of the marching season, usually on a Friday when there is not a home football game. The hunt, which typically has a theme, involves eight to 10 stations. Band and color guard members are teamed up in groups of six to eight students and must visit all the stations. “They have to stay together by holding hands,” Williams says.

Still another bonding event for the band members takes place on the morning of the first field show competition for the season. The breakfast usually involves the individual instrument sections, with one member hosting the other members of his or her section, Williams says.

Patty Naranjo, whose son Arcadio played trumpet with Vista Murrieta High School, Riverside (California) City College (RCC), and The Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps, recalls traditions and rituals her son and his friends performed before each competition. “With RCC, each section had its own chant after every performance,” she says. “With The Blue Devils, they would hug each other and wish each other good luck before every performance. They also had their own Blue Devils chant before walking on the field—one person would start it, and they’d all respond. Ah, the joys of being a band parent!”

Annual Performances

For some schools, the performance itself is the tradition.

The Harrisonburg (Virginia) High School Blue Streak marching band participates in the annual Harrisonburg Holiday Parade every year.

“It was always in the evening, just after sundown,” says Josh Weaver, who played mellophone with the Blue Streaks from 1999 to 2002. “Some of us found some battery-powered Christmas lights, and we were allowed to decorate our instruments and shakos for the parade. We would hold our mouthpieces in our hands to keep them warm. It didn’t make it any warmer outside, but there was hot cocoa waiting for us at the end.”

The Harrisonburg band still participates in the annual event. “There are a few more high schools participating, but my alma mater is still doing it,” Weaver says. “I always liked the Christmas parade when I was in marching band.”

Photo of Mt. Pleasant (Iowa) High School band courtesy of Dave Schneider.
Photo of Vista Murrieta (California) High School band courtesy of Stacy N. Hackett.
Photo of The Blue Devils 2016 age-outs courtesy of Jonah Katz.

About author

Stacy N. Hackett

Stacy N. Hackett is an award-winning freelance writer and technical editor based in Southern California. She writes frequently about software, marching bands, and the pet industry. Stacy is the proud mom of a sousaphone player in the Oregon State University Marching Band, and she has experience on the field as a former bells player with the Los Alamitos (California) High School marching band.

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