Students in the Wethersfield High School Marching Band stretch and do core exercises to have the lung capacity to play while marching.
WHS Marching Band Prepares in Pre-Season Camp
WETHERSFIELD - Over at Webb Elementary School, high school pre-season camp is in session--not for football, but band.
The Wethersfield High School Marching Band and Color Guard might not be an actual sports team, but that doesn’t mean they don’t break a sweat. Each day starts at 9 a.m. with a group stretch, breathing exercises and even yoga, said Band Director Dave Dion.
“Like any sport, to do it without stretching just causes injury,” Dion said during one of the 15-minute breaks his students take throughout the day, which runs until 4 p.m.
That’s because “it” is more than just music--not that that in itself isn’t a tall task. Unlike a concert hall ensemble, the marching band stands and holds their instruments while playing and marching.
“I think people don’t realize that marching and marching band is very physical,” Dion said. “We do yoga to stretch their core and to be able to play outside they need to have a higher lung capacity.”
After the warm up, the different sections--percussion, brass and woodwinds--are broken into their respective groups. In the middle of a large circle of rehearsing saxophone musicians, Dion loudly hums a melody to help his students find their rhythm. Further away, students tap away on the bells, mimicking the same sound, while the pounding of drummers can be heard from the other side of the building.
Dion moves from group to group, providing instruction and walking them through their parts. This, he says, typically lasts between an hour and 15 minutes and an hour and a half.
“Then, we’ll spend time practicing the music together in what we call ensemble rehearsal,” Dion said.
But that’s not all--next is marching work.
“So we really establish foot placement and marching technique,” he said. “Then the whole afternoon we’ll be learning drill, which is the movement they have when they’re playing.”
This is all in preparation for a season that includes halftime performances at football games and music competitions. So, the 140 or so of the band’s members will be the second closest people to the field come kickoff time, and they even have a playbook.
“It’s a football playbook for marching band,” said Mark Ramos, a senior and drum major.
The students have somewhere between 85 and 90 “sets”--the term used for formations--to memorize during the camp’s week and a half duration, and each one shifts at various points throughout the progression of the music.
“In the beginning we don’t have an instrument, we just drill, and we add the music later,” said Gabby Stefano, a senior drum major.
Despite popular misconception, Stefano and her fellow drum major Ramos are not percussionists, but student conductors.
“If it was a sports team, we’d be the captain, with Dion as the coach,” Stefano said.
More specifically, they are like the quarterbacks--Stefano and Ramos have to know the seemingly endless slew of formations better than everyone else, since they are responsible for leading their team through them.
“That’s why we’re here--to help the freshmen learn,” Stefano said. “We break it down in steps because we’ve been in their shoes, so we know what to say. It is rigorous, but it’s fun.”
Ramos opened up a thick packet to reveal a chart of the football field that is broken down into grids. Numbers--the exact spot a given musician is supposed to be--mark out that formation. He turned the page to another chart with a different look. The band will go through all of these motions within the span of 10 minutes during the football halftime shows.
“It is really intricate and elaborate,” Dion said. “We plan to learn about two thirds of the show in this week and a half. It’s very condensed. We have to teach them a great amount of material in a short amount of time.”
The song itself, a three-section composition called “Fusion,” was written by Dion himself.
“We have a lot of students that are into jazz and jazz-rock fusion, so I kind of wrote it with the talents of the students in mind,” he said.
The marching band will close out camp on Friday with a preview show and continue a Monday, Wednesday, Saturday practice schedule throughout the season, which runs until October, Dion said.