The Best and Worst Experiences

Torrential rain, freezing temperatures and blustering winds all make marching pretty miserable sometimes. But the crowds, the competitions and all the momentous firsts make the overall experience worthwhile. Can you relate to these favorite and least favorite moments?

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Quinche (right).

Ask anyone that has ever been in a marching ensemble about his or her favorite and least favorite moments in performance, and you’re likely to get an earful of stories—it’s simply too hard to pick just one moment. In most experiences, however, marchers and former marchers can point to one or two that stood out just a bit higher or lower than the rest.

Redcoat Band, Raincoat Band

The University of Georgia Redcoat Band is widely known for its powerful sound and near-cinematic quality halftime shows. With a football team that is a perennial powerhouse, the Redcoat Band has achieved national prominence alongside its team. Each season, the band prepares its traditional pregame and multiple halftime shows, usually one set for the first half of the season, followed by another for the second half of nearly 93,000 fans every game day, the shows are always a hit.

Clarinet player Elizabeth Quinche, currently in her senior year, discusses her favorite performance with the Redcoats. She has trouble picking just one.

“My favorite moments have always been on game day, especially during pregame!” she says. “It’s always amazing to see the crowd and the student section cheer with their red shakers from the field. It gives me goose bumps every single time we do pregame.”

Quinche mentions that the Redcoats pregame show has changed recently but that the stadium is always full by the climax of the show.

“We play ‘Krypton’ from Superman, and the whole stadium goes wild right as the team comes out of the tunnel,” Quinche says. “That’s really the highlight of the pregame show right there.”

Quinche also points to numerous videos that echo her sentiment. Her favorite video is one that shows a band member’s point-of-view for a pregame performance. “A guy in our drumline attached a GoPro camera to his drum during the first pregame of this season,” she says. “It really captures all of the spirit that we see from our view down on the field. Sanford Stadium is pretty tall, so you can imagine that the way we experience the crowd is pretty different from the way most people do.”

When asked about her least favorite performances, Quinche quickly responds with just one: the 2013 Capital One Bowl (now the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl) in Orlando, Fla.

“Not the game—we won that one!” she says. “It was actually the parade a couple days before the game. It had been drizzling the entire time, and we knew there was a chance of rain all day. We’ve marched in the rain before, so that really was no big deal, or so we thought. Then we stepped off, and the rain just let loose. It poured on us during the entire parade. You can imagine being a woodwind instrument in that kind of downpour.”

So how did Quinche get through that performance? She says she actually had fun during the rainstorm! “We actually laughed it off,” she says. “We started calling ourselves the ‘Raincoat Band’ afterwards, and by the end of the parade, we just made it tons of fun. There’s nothing you can do in that situation but have fun—that’s what we’re in band to do!”

Cold Night in Georgia

The Milton (Ga.) High School band program was founded in 1949 and shortly thereafter began its climb to excellence. The program is one of the preeminent band programs in the southeast region with regular appearances at Bands of America marching events. The school has eight other performance ensembles, ranging from winter guard and indoor drumline to jazz and symphony groups.

Recent Milton grad Briana Dixon didn’t have any trouble remembering her favorite and least favorite performances.

“My favorite performance would have to be my senior year, performing at [Bands of America] Grand Nationals in Indianapolis,” she says. “I was drum major and got to conduct the show opener that year.”

Dixon talks about how nervous she felt, especially knowing that she was being watched by an audience much larger than normal. “I was shaking with nerves and saw myself on the big screen, but as soon as I counted off, and the show began, I felt like I could do anything,” she says.

She pegs her least favorite performance as a halftime show in her junior year. “It was 28 degrees!” she exclaims. “Literally half the band couldn’t play.”

In the northern Georgia hills where Milton High School is located, what is the average low on a Friday night in November? Somewhere between 42 and 38 degrees. This game was 10 degrees colder than anything the band was used to playing in. “Our horns were frozen,” Dixon says. “We couldn’t play a single note by halftime, but we still had to march the show.”

Holidays in Kilts

The Granada Hills Charter High School marching band in Los Angeles has appeared on television and in films as far back as 1994, but the Highlander Band isn’t quite your traditional ensemble— members wear kilts!

Matthew Lopez, a recent graduate of the school, didn’t hesitate to give his least favorite performance—his holiday parade. “It didn’t matter which one; all four were awful,” he says. “The wind gets under those kilts, and you start freezing before you even step off.”

The band’s unique kilts pose a particularly big challenge in performances in general, according to Lopez. “If you didn’t clasp it properly, they could blow right off,” he says. “And by the end of the season, when we’re doing the holiday parade, it gets super windy. It was cold in general, but the wind really did not help.”

Lopez also mentions that the musical choice was always a lofty task. “I don’t remember what song we played every year, but it was always pretty hard music,” he says. “Couple playing that with the wind and marching a couple miles while hoping your kilt doesn’t fly off, and you’ve got yourself a tough parade.”

Despite the difficulties, Lopez still enjoyed his time in marching band. “I was fortunate enough to have some awesome experiences with the marching band, but I still point to just one for my favorite—the first one I did,” he says.

While he doesn’t remember the specific music he played or any details about the football game where he performed, he says that he remembers exactly how it made him feel. “All I remember is that throughout the entire show, I was at midfield,” he says. “Being front and center, right in front of the crowd, right in front of the drum major— it’s a little nerve-racking.”

Despite his nerves, the performance meant a lot to Lopez. “The spotlight for my first time was a great feeling,” he says. “It really is what kept me in marching band all those years.”

About the Author

Mitchell King is a senior majoring in communication at the University of Southern California (USC). He marched alto saxophone for two years before becoming drum major for two years at Campbell High School in Smyrna, Ga. He currently marches alto saxophone for the USC Trojan Marching Band. He aspires to one day open his own public relations firm in Atlanta.

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