Mighty Panther Marching Band: The Captivating Culture by Grace McCormick
“First you imitate, then you innovate,” said famous jazz trumpetist and composer Miles Davis.
Innovating is exactly what the Mighty Panther Marching Band has been doing during the entire band season. They have improved their score at every competition and they earned a gold rating for their ISSMA performance.
“I think that the band has been so successful, especially this year, because our leadership, hard work and dedication has taken a much larger role than in previous years,” senior baritone saxophonist Nicholas Pitman said.
On October 22 at Lawrence Central High School, the marching band earned sixth place, with a score of 74.4100 in the state competition against 15 other schools.
This year’s theme is “Kind of Blue to Green,” a tribute show to Miles Davis.
“The students really dig the music and are performing it well,” marching band director Ms. Helen Hockemeyer said.
Davis’ album “Kind of Blue” is the most purchased jazz album of all time.
“I love jazz, especially Miles Davis. The music of this year’s show combined with the drill really brings the show to life,” sophomore baritonist Chelsea Ford said.
Students in the marching band say that this year’s theme is their favorite one yet.
“‘Radiohead’ was okay, ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’ was pretty cool and ‘Brainstorm’ was nice, but this year’s show has some challenges and some really cool fun parts,” junior alto saxophonist Grace Tata said.
Snider has three jazz bands that include some of the same participants as marching band.
“This year’s show was designed to emphasize what Snider is good at: jazz,” sophomore percussionist Harrison Snyder said.
Incorporating jazz music into the show this year is something unique to the band.
“We have something that no other band has and that gives us a really special edge,” Ford said.
The marching band spends a total of 40 hours per week rehearsing the show during the three week period of band camp. Rehearsals become tedious when eight hours of practice per day all focus on an eight to ten minute performance.
While some elements of band camp always remain the same, including the time dedicated to physical and musical warm-ups, learning the drill and chart rehearsals, band members say that this year’s camp was more enjoyable than previous years’ overall.
“Last year, I didn’t start writing the music until June, so the music was late getting to the percussion arranger and the drill writer. Consequently, at band camp we had a lot of rehearsal time scheduled, but not very much drill to teach,” marching band director Mr. Kevin Klee said. “This year, I started writing the music in the middle of May, which really helped band camp go much more smoothly.”
Band members said that they were passionate about this year’s show, which resulted in a better band camp.
“We all seemed a lot more focused than previous years. We got what we needed to get done in a timely manner,” Caden Nelson, senior baritonist, said.
The marching band members learned the drill quickly and were able to learn the entire show within the three week period of band camp.
“After the intense three-week rehearsal period,” Mr. Klee said, “we have an accurate idea of how good the band is going to be and what the competition show is going to look like.”
Members said that they put forth more energy into this year’s band camp than in previous years.
“During the period of band camp, students often exceed our and their expectations for what they are capable of performing,” Ms. Hockemeyer said.
Ford’s favorite part of band camp is learning the new music and the drill. While many marching band members agree with Ford, others say that their favorite part of band camp is getting to know everyone.
Senior mellophonist Hailey Rodenbeck said, “Getting to know other people with the same dream as you is indescribable; you don’t get that in the regular classroom.”
Although band members play different instruments, they all have a common goal in mind.
Sophomore trumpetist Emily Stetka said, “As a marching band newbie, my favorite part of band camp was building relationships with people I didn’t know I had that much in common with.”
During band camp and long practices, the entire band often spends over four hours with each other. Perhaps that is why they have developed a “second family” sort of atmosphere.
“I love how everyone is so open to being a family. Our marching band supports one another and it’s honestly the best feeling,” Trish Arnold, junior flutist, said.
A responsibility often given to experienced band members is to teach the new members basics of the drill and blocking.
“Everyone is kind and helpful. If I am struggling with something, the band members will teach me how to do it,” sophomore trombonist Will Fiess said.
The bond between band members often goes deeper than helping each other out.
“I go far enough to say the band is my family. They have been so accepting and welcoming that the band hall has become my safe place,” freshman baritonist Sam Deckard said. “They’re always there for me when I need help or just to talk, which is something I’ve never had before.”
Band members frequently gather in the music hall before school to converse with friends and enjoy each other’s company.
“The students who do marching band are something special. They are hard workers and good leaders. They like challenges. They enjoy taking risks,” Mr. Klee said. “I think they are among some of the best students in the whole school.”
Ms. Hockemeyer said the reason she enjoys band camp practices so much is that “band camp is the only time of the year that Mr. Klee and I can truly teach music. During the school year, we both have many other responsibilities that pull us away from music. During camp time, we spend all of our time teaching students music, which is our true passion.”
Band members are strengthened in their understanding of music and marching techniques, as well as work ethic, during band camp.
“My favorite thing about band camp,” Snyder said, “is the bonding over hard work and my least favorite thing is how hard we work.”
During band camp, students learn the drill and the music as well as leadership skills.
“Being a drum major was an amazing opportunity to be a leader and work with some of the finest musicians in the school,” senior drum major Mitchell Minnick said.
Nelson’s favorite part of band camp is something band members covet: water.
Even if Nelson’s favorite part of band camp is different from others, almost all marching band members say that their least favorite part of band camp is the lack of enough water breaks. Other unpopular elements include heat, stress and long practices.
However, there are benefits of long practices, such as being able to sit out after an injury and redo errors, but in competitions, the show must go on, no matter what.
Band members say that there is always a lot of anticipation right before a competition.
“My favorite part of the marching band environment is the last rehearsal before a big show,” Mr. Klee said. “I know we have a lot to get done, and a very short period of time to accomplish it in. I always try to leave the kids motivated and inspired. And sometimes the students leave me motivated and inspired!”
A benefit of competitions and half-time shows are members being able to show off the hard work put into perfecting the sets.
“Competitions remind you that you’re doing marching band for something bigger than yourself,” sophomore clarinetist Danny Wells said.
The main goal of the entire marching band season is to get good scores at competitions and improve those scores in order to compete at state.
“My favorite thing about competitions is seeing other bands perform and spending time with my friends,” Fiess said.
Half-time shows are said to be good practices for competitions, but not as enjoyable.
“Nothing in marching band compares to the feeling you get when you walk out onto the field right before a big performance,” sophomore clarinetist Logan Carey said.
No matter how many times the show is performed, band members say that they continue to get a nervous feeling before playing their first note on the field.
“I was so nervous my first competition,” sophomore tenor saxophonist Madelyn Minnick said, “but when I stepped onto the field, I felt this amazing rush. By the time the show was over, I was out of breath. It was so amazing.”
Band members say that they sometimes goof off during practices, but that behavior stops while in performances.
“When it’s time to be serious we focus on what needs to be done. We put on our uniforms and when we step on that field we are in a champion state of mind,” Rodenbeck said.
Throughout the marching band season, band members sweat, work hard, try not to faint, grow with each other, learn to chug water as fast as they possibly can, share inside jokes and bad puns, get sunburnt and end up with what sophomore tubist Jennifer Cruz describes as “rad band tan lines.”