Music. Marching. Sweating. All three were blending into a new performance show over the last two weeks at Westerville South High School, as members of the marching band worked through band camp and pre-band camp exercises.
“Again. Take it back now,” repeated Westerville South band director John Laswell.
The 100 marching band students rush back to their designated spots on the practice field, wearing notebooks around their necks and Camelbak water packs, waiting for the harsh clicks of a metronome before marching to their next spot.
South’s band camp was held from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. July 27-31 on the South Otterbein Avenue campus of the school. The previous week, members drilled from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day through pre-band camp, also on the school grounds.
The band camp day is structured so that in the morning, students march outside on the practice field, break for lunch at noon, practice music in the afternoon and then combine marching skills with music in evening drills.
Laswell said the South band is in a better place musically and visually than it’s been at this time of the year for several seasons.
“Things have been going really well. We are trying to be a little smarter with our show design this year and the music is less difficult than it was last year,” Laswell said.
One reason for the improvement is that more money, from the Westerville South Instrumental Band Boosters, is being dedicated to 10 staff members who have been helping run the camp.
Assistant band director and woodwind specialist Jessica Kelley said marching band is great for students because it allows them to learn time management and leadership skills.
“Students have the chance to be part of something bigger than themselves,” she said.
Kelley said marching band is all about muscle memory and that repetition can only make the students better.
“We ask them to find one thing in each set that they can make better that time,” she said.
Along with the help of staff members, this year’s 25 freshmen can turn to section leaders for help.
“We have a great group of rookies. Most are doing well and those that maybe aren’t doing well, are receiving help from their leaders,” Laswell said.
Some of South’s band camp traditions include hosting a pool party Wednesday, a senior bonfire night on Thursday, and competing in a “drill down” every day before lunch.
The drill down is where band members compete to see who can follow the marching commands most accurately, in order to be the first one to eat lunch that day.
On Aug. 27, Jacob Austrino, a senior trumpet player, won the drill down for the first time.
“I try to take band seriously. I do whatever I can to make the band better,” the fifth-year band member said.
He explained how he and other section leaders met in the spring to discuss how they could stop problems within the band that they repeatedly noticed.
“I like how band builds such tight friendships. I was able to walk through the halls as a freshman and see people I knew,” he said. “I love this year’s music and sets. It’s so joyful and intoxicating.”
As one of 18 seniors, Austrino said he is confident this class of band members is part of building a legacy for the future.
Laswell said this year’s show will be a lot happier and more inspirational than last year’s show.
This year’s show is called Take to the Skies and focuses on man’s fascination with flight.
Throughout the show, the band and the color guard convey a story of a failed flight attempt, building up to a symbolic flight takeoff at the end.
The final song of the show has excerpts from the 2010 hit children’s movie How To Train Your Dragon.
To add visual drama to the show, four 8-foot wide “clouds” are set up to line the field during performances.
The band will perform the first two movements from its show at the first home game of the season against Olentangy High School Aug. 28. It will be fully in place for performance at the Westerville Central Classic Sept. 26.