Marching Cougars Ready for Fall

Photo | Cara O'Connor Band Camp concluded with the Aug. 25 Quince Orchard Marching Cougars Parent Preview. Pictured are Director Eric Fiero (center) with the Low Brass.

Photo | Cara O’Connor Band Camp concluded with the Aug. 25 Quince Orchard Marching Cougars Parent Preview. Pictured are Director Eric Fiero (center) with the Low Brass.

At 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 23, 12 days before the start of the school year, 58 Quince Orchard High School students took eight small, stiff-legged steps in time with their counts, which a metronome ticked over a loud speaker. They chanted along: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8.

“Check and adjust,” came instructor Sam Baronowsky’s voice over the megaphone. The members of the marching band checked their 116 feet against the 5-yard markers that striped the practice field. Then they reset and began again: 1-2-3 …

There were still nine more hours of practice in the day.

It was meme day at Band Camp, so half the camp was in costume: unicorns, cats with laser eyes, homemade jokes cobbled together with Sharpie and duct tape. The color guard instructor, Evan Lambert, wore a tank top with the handwritten message: “Get it together, sweetie.” And that’s what the week was all about.

Band Camp ran from Aug. 20 to 24. Camp days alternated between 7.5 and 12 hours. On the final day, the band’s hard work culminated in a public scrimmage where they performed movements from this year’s show, “Phoenix Rises,” for the first time.

It’s a show with a strong and recognizable narrative—the death and rebirth of a phoenix—and in some ways, it echoes the story of the marching band, too.

About a third of the band members are new this year, including half of the percussion section and nearly 70 percent of the color guard. Last year’s marching band was an older team. They had been playing together for a while, and though the baton had officially passed to then-new Band Director Eric Fiero, the show, which earned the band second place at states, had been engineered by QO’s former band director, Phillip Proctor.

“This year it’s my show,” said Fiero.

And this year’s task, according to Assistant Director Robyn Kleiner-Vilgos, is to raise up the least experienced members of the band and give them the practice and guidance they’ll need to succeed in this year’s season and the future.

“Long term,” said Fiero, “the biggest thing we can offer our students is a safe space…where they can create something—together.”

Delilah Locke is a freshman percussionist, and this was her first Band Camp. She plays in the front ensemble — “xylophone, snare, different toys.”

“The long hours are hard,” she explained, as a tuba croaked in the background, “but the upperclassmen are here to help.”

This is a sentiment reflected by the band’s section leaders, too.

Senior Meghan Ritter, color guard section leader, said her job was “not only cleaning the choreography…but more team bonding.” She described the way the color guard prepares for games: “We do our hair together … cutesy things like that.” But the level of commitment color guard demands shouldn’t be minimized.

Part of her job, Ritter explained, is “making sure they have their lives together,” which becomes important with the 14-hour Monday through Friday practice week, six-hour home game commitments every other Friday, and 12-hour competitions most Saturdays in the fall.

Senior Jackson Freed, percussion section leader agrees; the band is tight community. Freed moved from New Jersey to Maryland in his freshman year of high school and he didn’t know anyone at first, but thanks to marching band, he said, “I didn’t feel alone walking around the halls.”

In addition to the high turnover in the percussion section, Freed and the band are also adjusting to a change in instrumentation. All of the percussionists on the field play bass drums; there are no snares this year, so “all the parts are split, but when we play together,” Freed explained, “you get different voices.”

Senior Phil Johnson is the marching band’s drum major. “I’m the section leader of the band and the section leader of the section leaders,” he explained. Since the band can’t use a metronome during games and competitions, Johnson conducts and cues the different sections.

He refers to this year’s show as “much more of a thematic show,” as opposed to a technically difficult show like last year’s. This decreased emphasis on technical skill is a challenge for Johnson, whose job it is to keep older, more experienced members of the band excited and engaged, too.

Being the drum major means “you’ve gotta be the band’s biggest cheerleader,” said Johnson, as a student in an inflatable T-Rex costume skulked down the hall. “It’s extremely important that (the band) feels like the show is amazing; all I do is wave my arms.”

As a freshman band member, Johnson recalled being ostracized by the older students. He and the other section leaders are making a sincere effort this year to make the freshman feel incorporated.

“Our biggest priority,” he said, “was to create the aspects of a band family.”

Just before the band broke for lunch, Baronowsky called for a “show of hands” through his megaphone. “Who made at least one thing better this time?”

Everybody raised a hand.