Take the Field: USSBA

Who’s got the best band in the land? Who has what it takes to be a national champion? Let’s take a moment to review top high school bands in the 2006 US Scholastic Band Association as the 2007 championships get underway.

Last year, the United States Scholastic Band Association (USSBA) crowned its first overall National Champion after 10 weeks with 150 marching festivals involving more than 700 bands. The USSBA, made up of regions throughout the United States, had not crowned an overall winner since Youth Education in the Arts (YEA!) created it in 1988.

North Penn Marching Knights

The North Penn High School Marching Knights of Lansdale, Pa., took the title of Overall Champion as well as Group VI National Champion with a score of 98.475. North Penn’s program titled “Voice of Genius” topped nine other bands competing in Class VI.

Senior Tyler Wiernusz, tuba section leader this year, reflects on his experience in the North Penn band:

“Marching band … combines many different skill elements such as music and dance to evoke emotion from the audience.” Wiernusz says. “It also takes a large amount of athleticism and coordination. This combination of the arts and athletics is what makes marching band the great activity it is.”

The Marching Knights competed in both USSBA and BOA last year. While they dominated the competition in the USSBA, they were also a finalist at both the Towson and Atlanta BOA Super Regionals.

During the Atlanta trip, the Marching Knights encountered less than ideal rehearsal conditions with rainy weather. Several parents helped coordinate an alternate rehearsal location for the band. Assistant Director Chris Thompson reflected on how the band overcame mother nature.

“The weather was poor, and we needed to practice,” Thompson says. “We were somehow able to get clearance to practice inside an actual aircraft hangar at a military installation in Atlanta. I never thought I would be cleaning drill from a 50-foot scaffolding that is used to repair airplanes!”

Thompson advises graduating band members to support their alma mater. “Once you graduate from your high school and college bands, remember to support them,” he says.

This fall, the Marching Knights are exploring the music of “Kahlo – Viva la Vida,” featuring music from Osvaldo Golijov’s first opera, “Ainadamar.”

Blackstone-Millville Marching Chargers

The 2006 Blackstone-Millville Marching Chargers capped a successful season with a second place finish in USSBA Group VI—impressive for its first appearance in that class. With an overall score just 0.2 behind first place, the Marching Chargers also won the Best Music category.

Their 2006 program, “Cirque du Soleil” (meaning “Circus of the Sun”), was complete with trampolines and circus costumes.

Along with being the head band director for the Marching Chargers band, Ronald “Buddy” Bibeault is also the fine arts director of the Blackstone-Millville Regional School District.

The Blackstone-Millville marching band takes great pride in its outstanding performance in the music arts. Bibeault credits the community for its continuing support in building new generations of musicians to come.

“The environment and support that we get for the music department makes it fun to get up and come to work every day,” says Bibeault on the Marching Chargers’ website.

This year, the Blackstone-Millville Marching Chargers will be performing the music of Karl Jenkins. Their show is entitled “Reflections.”

Immaculata Spartans

The Immaculata Spartans took 3rd place in Group VI at the USSBA Championships last season. But the Spartans didn’t stop there; they also captured Best Color Guard and Best Percussion awards.

Founded in 1962, Immaculata High School is a Catholic secondary school.

Ed Webber, head band director of the Spartans, reflects on last season’s success: “We had an awesome group of kids,” he says. “The show was well done, but the students are the heartbeat of the program. They are the reason why we work so hard.”

Webber is frequently heard telling his students that hard work is not about what you get from it, but rather what you become by it.

Webber also credits his staff for the program’s success. “We focus on working hard and coming up with a product that is rewarding, enjoyable and brings us closer to one another,” he says.

Steven Woltornist, one of last season’s drum majors and now a freshman in college, talks about a time when the band wasn’t doing so well at midseason: “The band was at a low point,” he says. “Many of the members felt they had no energy or excitement during rehearsal.”

Woltornist and the other two drum majors met with the student leaders. They came up with a plan to breathe life back into the band by creating excitement at the beginning of each rehearsal. For example, they would hang up encouraging quotes in the locker room, give out candy before competitions and write “love letters” to show enthusiasm and pride in the other students’ accomplishments.

“Energy spread throughout the band like wildfire; it was contagious” says Woltornist. “We kept each other going during the long practices and gave each other the energy to play passionately during shows.”

This year, the Spartans’ show is entitled “Blank Page or Canvas – So Many Possibilities.” They will be competing in USSBA contests as well as the BOA regional in New York.

About the Author

Gregory M. Kuzma (http://www.gregorymkuzma.com/), who simply goes by “GM,” is the author of the book “On the Field From Denver, Colorado … The Blue Knights!” which highlights his 1994 summer tour adventures as a drum corps member. He currently resides in San Antonio, Texas.

Photo by Jolesch Photography, http://www.jolesh.com/.