- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 7, 2004

Eddie Anderson teaches teens to march and make music. As band director of Hine Junior High School in Southeast, he knows that his ensemble keeps at least 109 students away from negative activities. This fall, the marching band has performed such songs as “Backstabbers” by The O’Jays and “The Way You Move” by OutKast. The group received a plaque for taking part in the Battle of the Bands at RFK Stadium on Oct. 3, which was a fund-raising showcase for the schools that participated.

Mr. Anderson is also working with students to raise money to attend the All American Music Festival of Orlando in Florida in March 2005.

“These are the same kids that may be doing something else that’s not good. It gives them a place to be,” he says.

“It keeps them out of gangs,” Mr. Anderson says. “I’ve had quite a few kids that have gone on to college using their music skills. It ends up making them productive citizens. It teaches them discipline and responsibility.”

Teachers and students agree that it creates good work habits and can lead to college scholarships. Some schools offer the activity as a credited course, while other schools offer it as an extracurricular activity.

By performing at parades, competitions, football games and pep rallies, a marching band significantly contributes to school spirit, says Alex Robinson, director of bands at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington.

The practice is all worth it when the students can play for their peers, he says. The marching band, however, is only as strong as the weakest musician.

The students, therefore, are held to strict accountability. He expects the band members to be in their seats at least 15 minutes before practice starts.

“Then, you’re on time,” Mr. Robinson says. “If one person fails, we all fail.”

This season, the Washington-Lee marching band has been performing selections from the group Earth, Wind and Fire and the musical “West Side Story.”

Even though Luke Beckman, 17, of Arlington, enjoys these tunes, it was jazz musician Louis Armstrong who first inspired him to play the trumpet, in the fourth grade. Luke, a senior at Washington-Lee High School, is the brass-section leader in the marching band.

“My Dad played me a Louis Armstrong CD,” he says. “The first night I had the trumpet, I just played a bunch of notes along with the recording. It sounded terrible, but I liked it.”

The music is chosen by the music director, but the formations the marching band makes on the field are created by a professional drill designer, who starts working on the show during the summer, says Ben Williams, director of bands at Yorktown High School in Arlington.

In addition to the skillful playing of the music, the overall presentation needs to come across polished, he says. All interested students audition each January to be placed in an ensemble for the next school year. Those students chosen for this season’s marching band are playing the music of Chuck Mangione.

“A lot of people in the community don’t see other parts of the music program at Yorktown,” Mr. Williams says. “Our only PR to them is at football games and parades.”

Students practice during the school day in the class period designated for concert band, which the ensemble becomes after marching-band season is finished.

After-school rehearsal for marching band also usually takes place about two hours a week, Mr. Williams says. Plus, students attend band camp at Mercersburg Academy in Mercersburg, Pa., for a week in August before school starts, which costs about $250 per student, he says.

Students have an annual fee of about $100 for transportation, uniform cleaning and the future cost of new uniforms.

Fund raising reduces the bill incurred by the students, who usually pay about 25 percent of the total cost, Mr. Williams says. Students usually purchase their own instruments. Specialty instruments that students wouldn’t normally buy for themselves, however, such as the sousaphone, can be rented from the school.

Bonnie Carlson of Arlington, 17, a senior drum major in the Yorktown High School marching band, tries to keep the musicians in step with all the details. She’s working to polish her conducting technique and also plays the clarinet.

“You have to prove yourself to be a good leader,” she says. “I do my best to get everyone motivated, feeling like they want to work hard and do a good job.”

The social benefits of marching band give Bonnie extra inspiration for her studies, she says.

“I would probably hate high school a lot if not for marching band,” she says. “It’s made me a better person and given me a lot more friends.”

Kevin Estes, 17, of Arlington, a senior at Yorktown High, took his required math class for senior year during the summer so that he could have time in his schedule to continue in marching band.

“Freshman year of high school was a big step,” he says. “I didn’t have any friends, but I made 60 friends at band camp before school started. The first time I walked into Yorktown High School, I already had people who knew me.”

On the second day of marching-band practice as a freshman, Norvell Barbee of Upper Marlboro, a senior at Oxon Hill High School, wanted to quit, he says.

His mother, however, knew better. He has played the euphonium and trombone for the past four years in the ensemble.

“My mother wouldn’t let me quit. She thought it would be a good experience for me,” the 17-year-old says. “Once you start in marching band, it’s like having another family. You’re never really alone.”

Accountability to the other band members encourages students not only to practice their music, but also focus on their studies, says Rahsaan Edwards, band director at Charles Herbert Flowers High School in Springdale, Md.

There are many students in the marching band on the honor roll, he says. Students must have a 2.7 grade-point average to participate in the ensemble.

“Our average GPA in the band is 3.5,” he says. “I believe education comes first. You don’t come to school to be in the band. You come to school to come to school. If you set the standard, it will make them work harder.”

Most people don’t realize how much effort students put into marching band, says Danny Stokes, director of bands at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax. Physical coordination is especially important for color guards, who use flags, rifles and sabers to contribute to the presentation.

“Marching band is a very athletic activity,” he says. “They are carrying very heavy equipment while playing very difficult music, and they are moving at high velocity.”

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