Ten years ago, the Marching Black and Gold (MBG) was only a dream, but this fall, the MBG is celebrating its ninth season, at Hopewell Valley Central High School, as a competitive marching band.
“Marching band is a combination of music and movement, the integration of a musical score with a series of visual moves that align together,” said David Schwartzer, director of the MBG. “Marching band, however, is so much more than its separate components. Marching band is a place for students to achieve, succeed, improve their work ethic, make friends, be challenged and more. It is an activity better experienced than defined.”
The beginnings of the MBG arrived in 2006 in the form of a pep band that played at home football games. In 2007, the MBG took off with about 50 members who learned the “Pirates of the Caribbean” show and competed in four competitions with USBands, formerly US Scholastic Band Association, in Group 2A.
“[The marching band] took four to five years to become a reality,” said Peter Griffin, district supervisor of visual and performing arts. “It was very exciting and rewarding for me.”
The MBG’s season officially begins with a two-week camp during the last two weeks of August. “Band camp is the backbone of marching band,” said Morgan Tallo, the 2015 senior drum major of the MBG. Rehearsal begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. Students typically arrive by 8:30 in the morning in order to prepare for the full day of rehearsal and leave around 5:30 in the evening after packing up the field.
“Basically, they learn the show which includes learning drill, learning the new music for the show, having it memorized and putting as much of it on the field as humanly possible,” said Cathy Nadar, 2015 Hopewell graduate and former drum major of the MBG.
Students have a lunch break at noon to eat, talk with friends and, most importantly, sit down in an air-conditioned building.
The Band Olympics happen during the lunch break, these games are designed to encourage fun, teamwork within sections and healthy competition among the band. The band is divided into sections: drum line, pit percussion, color guard, saxophones, flutes and clarinets, low brass and high brass. These sections compete against each other. Past band Olympic games include dizzy bat races, obstacle courses, limbo and water relay races.
“It’s a good time for the band to be together,” Nadar said. “There’s a lot of social bonding as well, which sets the tone for the season.”
Before band camp begins, the color guard and drum line have weekly rehearsals throughout the summer. The winds and brass meet throughout the summer in order to prepare for band camp, as well.
“The goal of the summer rehearsals before band camp would be to get the new members acquainted with marching band, not only socially but also in terms of marching and music,” Nadar said. “It’s a really good prerequisite to make sure everybody, not just new members, is on the same page for when band camp comes.”
Band camp ends with a performance of the show for friends and family of band members and members of the community. The performance is a way for the MBG to show off everything they learned during band camp.
Once band camp ends and school begins, the football season commences. The MBG performs stand tunes throughout football games to keep the crowd engaged and encourage the team. The cheerleaders perform routines to certain stand tunes the band performs, as well.
“What the marching band does is bring enthusiasm to everybody,” said Dr. Thomas Smith, superintendent of Hopewell schools. “They’ve done that not only for our high school but for our staff and community, as well.”
The MBG performs its show during halftime, to a crowd that has steadily increased over the years thanks to the success of the band and the football team.
“Performing in front of a crowd at football games is especially unique because you get to perform in front of a crowd that doesn’t usually see the show,” Tallo said. “A lot of people come to the football games to watch football. Having the marching band perform at football games introduces a new element to the whole event, which can surprise people and get them interested in marching band.”
The MBG attends all Hopewell Valley football games, both home and away, unless the band has a competition during a game.
The MBG competed for the first time in Group 2A at South Brunswick High School on Oct. 6, 2007. The band earned a score of 73.6 and placed first out of two bands. The MBG’s first competition this year is Oct. 3 at South Brunswick High School. The MBG will compete in Group 3A.
“I really enjoy going to the competitions and just seeing what the kids worked so hard on during the course of the week and over the course of the season,” said Jeffery Parkinson, assistant director of the MBG. “I enjoy sitting in the stands and watching that; it’s very rewarding. To see the sense of accomplishment the kids get after a show is really awesome.”
Students enjoy the competitions just as much as the directors do, if not more. “It’s not about winning, just getting a higher score than last time, improving yourself,” Tallo said.
The MBG competes with USBands through the Youth Education in the Arts organization. According to YEA, USBands provides a competitive circuit for over 700 high school marching bands. The MBG has been competing in this circuit since its first competition and still competes with them today.
However, the MBG will try something new this season. On Saturday Oct. 17 at 10am, the MBG will host a competition for the first time in Hopewell. The competition will take place on Ackerson Field, Hopewell’s new turf field that was completed in 2012.
“A home show is obviously a big step for us,” Parkinson said. “It’s pretty incredible to think that we’re doing a home show and we haven’t even existed for 10 years.”
Members of the MBG are encouraging classmates, friends, families and the community to attend the competition in hopes that the home show will be a success and will result in an annual show at Hopewell Valley.
“I hope that community members come out to watch the band,” said Michael Daher, principal of Hopewell Valley Central High School. “It would be nice to see the community become more connected to the band and the school.”
The MBG is looking forward to this opportunity. “Personally, my goal is to keep it as organized as possible and to make sure everyone is involved in some way and has a ton of fun with it,” Tallo said. “It’s going to be a great experience for the whole band.”
When asked what her favorite part about competitions was Tallo said, “It’s the feeling of putting your heart out on the field for one show and doing it all again the next week, the feeling of waiting for the awards and feeling everyone waiting with you.”
The MBG is comprised of individuals, but together they are one unit. “Band is family,” Tallo said.
Over the course of the season, the MBG becomes a very close-knit group. “I feel so committed to that group of people who are in the marching band,” Nadar said. “Being in marching band, you grow up with those people. Not only as an ensemble, but as a person you grow with them.”
The feeling of family touches the adults as well as the students. “My favorite part of being involved in the marching band is probably watching the seniors at the end of the season realize what the program has meant to them and the impact it has had on them, seeing them grow into leaders and pass on words of wisdom to underclassmen,” Schwartzer said.
The MBG’s success and leadership will launch it in a positive direction. “I envision the band continues to grow so that we can include more people in what we do and share with them what we do – that it’s more than just running around on a football field,” Schwartzer said.
The MBG welcomes everyone. Auditions are for placement only; the group does not cut anyone who wants to participate. The MBG is a team where every member participates at all times. If one member is absent, there is a visible hole in his or her place.
“The main reason people should come out to see the marching band perform is because we have really great kids that are working really hard over the course of a few months,” Schwartzer said. “To be able to watch them do what they do on a football field and come together is pretty special.”
A video of the MBG’s current show, along with videos of a few of their previous shows, is available on the band’s website.
Author: Casey Parrett is a marching band enthusiast and junior studying public relations at Virginia Tech. She grew up in Hopewell and was a member of the Hopewell Valley Marching Black & Gold for four years. When she’s not walking in time on her way to class, Casey enjoys reading, hiking and spending time with friends and family.