After taking home the gold seven times this season, Marching Band gives a glimpse into what it takes.
Surya Chelliah, Alfred Ukudeev-Freeman
“Mr. Wong has a hands-off approach. And it works.” Says saxophonist Dhruv Sharma (12)
It’s a complicated, coordinated effort, but Mr. Wong has found a particular method for carrying out band practice.
“Practice is entirely student-led,” Sharma continues. “And see, that doesn’t really happen in other schools. Mr. Wong creates the drills, music selection, sheet music. Meanwhile, the students head the drills out on the field. You learn how to effectively communicate and guide your fellow students during practice.”
During these moments of guidance, a spirit of camaraderie spawns within the band. Tri-M Music Honor Society president and assistant drum major Samuel Yip (12) recalls, “When I first joined the band, I had no experience on saxophone. Pointers from Mr. Wong and consulting YouTube definitely helped. My upperclassmen’s support of me stood out though; it’s why I became Tri-M president. I wanted to give that back to [future students].”
Band newcomer and clarinetist Lauren Gonzalez (9) echoes Yip’s sentiments, noting, “my favorite part of Band so far has been the people. Everyone has a really good attitude, and, I don’t know, I just love hanging out with them. I look up to the section leaders and I want to become [one] at some point to help others improve like they did.”
Marching band is not a blow-off class to hang out with friends and get a free PE credit; a serious drive for the arts is necessary to succeed.
Sharma mentions, “You gotta make it clear that it’s not some replacement for PE, though. It’s a lot more effort you gotta put in. You gotta put actual commitment, removing things from your calendar.”
And it’s not just the frequent competition dates that Sharma refers to, the band pushes you from day one.
“It was definitely intense having to go straight to the field after school and get right into rehearsal,” says Yip. “It’s a seventh-period class; we have to stay after school for around two hours on Wednesdays and Fridays. Then on Saturdays, we tend to have our performances, sometimes lasting up to twenty hours straight.”
Despite the immense workload, the experience is said to be worthwhile. Students make friends, practice, mess around, and above all, make memories.
“The most memorable experience that I will never forget is going to dinner after a competition after 8:30 PM. We’re sitting there, and the Band leadership gets a call saying someone is missing. We immediately left our food on the table, hopped into a friend’s car and launched a search party for this person,” Yip narrates. “Luckily, they were not lost, just on the other side of campus and their phone was dead. It served as a moment of realization: whether it was 8:30 PM or 2 AM, you just have to be there for the people around you. You gotta be on call. It was memorable not just ‘cuz I found it funny, but ‘cuz I realized how I need to step up.”
This almost familial bond between members is what fosters their prosperity, finding success at many turns.
“This season was really where we stepped off on a new foot tryna gain new ground, and I’m confident that next season will be even more successful, and I’m looking forward to that when the time comes,” Yip notes, “We won a total of nineteen trophies, seven of those being first place.”
Band operates on such a high level only because students are so experienced and willing to listen to others and Mr. Wong. Students are encouraged to handle smaller problems themselves, whether that’s a quick tune-fix or some slip-up on notes. It’s with the art of self-improvement that Band runs so efficiently. And it’s because of the enthusiastic spirit of each student that they’re able to improve.
Still, there are some persistent problems that need fixing. Funding is one.
“Our school has a lot of great people, that’s what makes our band strong, but in a marching band, it also really comes down to funding,” says section leader and saxophonist Bhargav Shriram (11). “But a school with more funding could afford hiring instructors. And props. Like flags or stairs. Something interesting that we could use for [competitions]—they require money, which we don’t have. So we lose points for things like that, and it makes us question, well, are we that good? But we are!”
Money isn’t the only thing the band needs, though; over the years, a lack of outreach has become increasingly apparent.
“The students playing should know that their friends and their community are showing up for them,” says Sharma. “If we could do something like lunchtime performances, interdependence between the [band] and the school itself, that’s a winning formula. Wider outreach boosts morale. And I think if we could figure that out this year, we could kickstart that boost. Forever.”
Marching Band percussionists Ian Budiman (10) (left), Ethan Mathew (10), and Shriya Shankar (12) (right) perform alongside their peers during the halftime performance at this year’s Homecoming game in Tak Fudenna stadium.
PC: Alfred Ukudeev-Freeman