When the Northwest High School Marching Band gets set to perform, the intent is not merely to put on a 10-minute concert that just happens to take place on a football field and features musicians walking around emphatically as they play their instruments.
Rather, the Jaguars pride themselves on creating theatrical performances, drum major Emily Eason said. And every show offers a lesson to be learned through the music.
In this year’s captivating program titled “Red,” Northwest conceptualized a prequel to the “Little Red Riding Hood” story, fifth-year band director Emily Carpenter said. On Nov. 3 Northwest finished second at the US Bands National Championship in Allentown, Penn., the program’s best-ever showing at a national competition. This year’s state runner-up, the Jaguars competed in the IIA division, which consisted of 17 bands with anywhere from 39 to 52 members; Northwest finished with 92.487 points, less than three points out of first place.
“(Finishing second) at nationals was really special for the students and staff,” Carpenter said. “It just makes everyone feel good when all the hard work and time pays off at such a major event. This group of students has become very close this season.”
While about one third of last year’s group that finished third at nationals graduated last spring, Carpenter said the band’s success in recent seasons served as great preparation for this year’s upperclassmen to take on more prominent roles.
“I think this year we had a really strong group and a really strong show put together,” Carpenter said. “I think that because of how well we did last year and the year prior, the upperclassmen really (understood) what it takes and (were) able to help the new members understand that sooner.”
A good marching band performance starts with strong music playing, Carpenter said. The goal is to sound just as clean while marching and engaging in choreography as they would sitting in a chair on stage. But the music alone doesn’t win competitions—though Northwest won the award for Best Music in four out of five competitions this fall. In order to create the desired visual effect, every single band member must hit his or her spots on the field at exactly the right time, all the while trying to sell the program’s concept and draw people in to the performance.
Communicating to an audience requires an enormous level of energy, Carpenter said.
And this year’s group had it in abundance, Eason said.
The planning for this year’s show began in January 2018 with band staff working on the music and concept. The idea of the show was “revealed” to students in May with a few summer rehearsals to follow starting in June. But things kicked into high gear in mid-August with the start of the fall sports season. Band camp consists of eight, eight-hour days and the work done during that time—memorizing the music and learning the “sets” to be marched in the show—makes or breaks the season, Carpenter said. Throughout the fall season, the Jaguars practiced every Monday and Wednesday night for three hours.
“That time before school starts is the time when there are really no other distractions and the more that gets done, the better off the band will be the rest of the season,” Carpenter said.
Northwest’s success over the past three years—the Jaguars won states a year ago—has not only brought more notoriety to the program, but serves as great motivation for current and incoming band members to keep it going, Carpenter said.
“(This level of success) takes a lot of work, time and consistency,” Carpenter said. “(But) once you get a taste of a state championship and winning consistently, you don’t want to go back to coming in third or fourth. It helps to drive everyone to continue to get better and work hard.”