Lawrence Central High School

Photo by Slingshot Photography

Long a contender in its state competition and at Bands of America, the Lawrence Central Marching Band also won last year’s Fiesta Bowl National Band Championships.

Lawrence Central High School’s marching band has national acclaim and is often crowned “winner” in major competitions. Last year, the “Spirit of Central” from Indianapolis won the Indiana State School Music Association State Marching Band Field Show, placed third in the Bands of America Grand National Championships and won the Fiesta Bowl National Band Championships—a high school field competition held as part of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl festivities. Halftime Magazine interviewed Matthew James, director of performing arts and marching band director, to get the inside scoop.

Halftime: What is your musical background?

James: I have a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University in music education. I have a master’s in conducting from Butler University. I’ve done high school marching band, college marching band, drum corps and all other sorts of other all-state concert experiences while I was in high school. I played the euphonium.

Halftime: Why did you decide to enter the Fiesta Bowl National Band Championship last year? James: Well we’ve been doing a lot of traveling, and we work together as a staff to determine which events we’d like to go to. So we’ve been to the Rose Parade; we’ve been to the Macy’s Parade; we’ve done the Philadelphia parade; we’ve done Disney World, Disneyland; we’ve done all those things. And the Fiesta Bowl was—I guess you could call it—the third of the Triple Crown that we hadn’t done yet, and we really wanted to try to do it.

Halftime: What did it feel like to win the Fiesta Bowl band championships?

James: It’s a great honor to be named a champion in any particular venue. Our kids are always coached to perform really well, and that’s kind of the thing that we’re after. Winning championships when you’re being judged is always a thing that you really can’t control; the thing you can control, though, is having great performances. And the kids had two wonderful performances at the Fiesta Bowl, so it was really a lot of fun. It’s hard to prepare for the Fiesta Bowl because, of course, it’s very, very cold here in December and the end of November. Last year was extremely brutal and going down there and trying to prepare in the warm weather was a very short window of preparation time. It made it that much more exciting because the kids were able to struggle through the cold weather rehearsals here and really get things done in Phoenix.

Halftime: What show did you perform last year?

James: The halftime show we did last year was called “Echo Sphere.” When we travel, we like to have something that is thematically connected to the place that we’re going. When we went to the Rose Parade, we did a show called “The Rosa” … So we did tangos and made pictures of roses on the field. So when we went to the Fiesta Bowl, we did a thing called “Echo Sphere.” It was kind of the idea that you’re traveling through a canyon. It was a tribute to the Grand Canyon.

Halftime: Was the marching culture in Arizona different than in Indiana?

James: Well it wasn’t really because the groups that go there are from all over the place and when you compete in Bands of America, like we do, we see groups from all over the place that are some of the bigger competitors … It was just kind of a different place to meet old friends.

Halftime: What do you think makes your band so successful at the Fiesta Bowl and other competitions?

James: We just have a really good staff. Our staff is made up of some very dedicated people that work really hard. And we have wonderful students that understand that just because you show up doesn’t mean you’re going to do well. There’s a required amount of work and a required amount of investment they have to make time-wise and work-wise in order to be successful, pretty much at anything. And I think you put those two things together, and you have a very successful combination.

Halftime: Do you have a message for the marching band world?

James: Our philosophy is: Always make it about the music.

About the Author

Sabrina Lochner, a senior at Syracuse University, is an editorial intern for Halftime Magazine. She is majoring in magazine journalism and political science and minoring in architecture. She currently serves the Syracuse University Marching Band as head drum major and has served as the band’s associate drum major for two years. She has played the clarinet since fifth grade and is a sister of Tau Beta Sigma, National Honorary Band Sorority.