We’re An American Band

For the first time, high school band members receive All-American status and perform at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

Benjamin Pouncey, a senior trumpet player from Ridge View High School in Elgin, S.C., has received many musical accolades. He has performed with The Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps, receiving 2nd place in the 2007 Drum Corps International (DCI) World Championships, and in the Bands of America National Concert Band Festival, the Governor’s All-Star Band, the South Carolina Region Band and the University of South Carolina Band Clinic. He is also the treasurer of his high school’s Tri-M Music Honor Society. This year, he can add the title of “All- American” to his list of achievements.

Pouncey is one of 93 marching band students from around the country who received this honor. It is the same status given to the best high school senior football players invited to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. The marching band students performed a halftime field show together as the U.S. Army All-American Marching Band (USAAAMB).

Organized by the U.S. Army, MENC: The National Association for Music Education and event producer SportsLink, this year’s All-American Band performed a five-and-a-half minute field show of American-themed songs, featuring “We’re an American Band,” “America the Beautiful” and “America” from “West Side Story.”

The 31-member DCI All-Texas Color Guard also performed with the band, and the U.S. Army Field Band accompanied the band in the pit.

Sponsors included Conn-Selmer, DeMoulin, Dinkles, Vic Firth, Sabian, guardcloset.com, and Pyware.

Assembling the Ensemble

The All-Americans were chosen based on video auditions that included playing, marching, and playing while marching. “There are a lot of great players, but we needed to separate the ones who could both march and play well,” says Bob Buckner, director of the USAAAMB and the Western Carolina University marching band in Cullowhee, N.C. “Most of the drummers have drum corps training, and some of the wind players did too. Most of them, you could tell, had really good training from their high school band directors.”

Along with the all-expense-paid trip to San Antonio, Texas, weeklong instruction and nationally televised coverage of their halftime performance, one of the biggest benefits for members of the USAAAMB is the recognition and celebration put on by the U.S. Army at each accepted member’s school.

“The big thing about the All-American Bowl is not just the game itself; it’s that we go to each kid’s school and have an assembly for them,” says Brian Prato, band operations manager of SportsLink. “The Army looked at the opportunity to do the same thing for band kids, and that’s how the All-American Band was born. It makes the whole thing even bigger.”

The U.S. Army presented each selected student with a shako and special jacket in front of large groups of schoolmates, staff and local press. “[People at my school] were very proud and surprised,” Pouncey says. “And when they found out how prestigious it was and what a big deal it was, they were very excited for me.”

Buckner says he experienced one of these recognition assembles firsthand. “The look in the student’s eyes when he accepted his award was great,” Buckner says. “The Army makes a big deal out of this.”

Many of the U.S. Army representatives are involved in music. “Whichever local army office the school is nearby will send a local army recruitment officer,” Prato says. “The army’s been really cooperative with trying to hook us up at the stops with people who have music backgrounds. The kids do get a chance to meet with active duty soldiers and talk about career opportunities. For those who are interested in making a career out of music, that was a great opportunity for them to meet with people who are actually doing it.”

The selection tour also included a PlayStation SingStar video game tournament.

In Preparation for Game Day

Once the students arrived in San Antonio, the band had only 16 hours and 45 minutes of total practice time. “We need to do basics, have sectionals and focus on playing the music well,” Buckner said before the event. “It’s been a challenge for me to keep this to a minimum but still keep it challenging.”

Students had help in preparing for the band’s first meeting, though. Each received the music and drill in advance as well as a Pyware March Pad, which allows them to practice the drill steps in their own homes.

“I was very excited when they put the recordings online,” Pouncey says. “The website said the U.S. Army Field Band made the recordings. When I heard that and was able to look at my music in comparison, and when I saw that, it got me really excited.”

Drum major Michael Blakley from Lincoln-Way East High School in Frankfort, Ill., conducted the band. “I’m looking forward to the adrenaline that’s caused by performance,” Blakley said before the event. “This is one of those natural highs that comes in life that you don’t get to do as often as you’d like.”

One Week With Lifelong Effects

Being an All-American will likely have lifelong effects. “I was amazed at how many of the All-American football players went on to be big college stars, so you can probably expect the band students to do the same,” says Elizabeth Lasko, director of public relations and marketing for MENC.

One of the biggest perks of being in the USAAAMB was the chance to meet and work with a nationally recognized director and other dedicated marching band students from around the country.

Buckner—who has served as an educator, adjudicator, drill designer, guest conductor, and clinician throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe for more than 40 years— says he felt honored to be chosen. “Mainly this is about advocacy; I really feel like it’s important to get our marching band activity out into the world and to show people what we do,” Buckner says. “It’s interesting to see how many businesses and manufacturers have gotten on board with this thing. I think everyone realizes what a great opportunity it is for our activity. I’m glad I’ve gotten to do it the first time.”

Buckner is a Bands of America Hall of Fame inductee and has been in his current position as director of athletic bands at WCU for 17 years, taking the group from 90 members to more than 300.

Despite his own achievements, Buckner cites friendship and peer learning as chief benefits. “We’re hoping they’re going to have friendships and an understanding of a different way that marching band can be produced,” Buckner said before the event. “I hope that these students will be motivated to continue participating in marching band and in band in general.”

The students concur: “I’d like to gain a point of view of other students around the country,” Blakley said a few weeks before the performance. “We really don’t get that much in Illinois for marching band. I’d like to know how they practice, how they learn and how other schools work to succeed.”

Pouncey agrees. “It’s a great opportunity to meet other students that have grown up around music and have that same passion for music that I do,” he says.

SportsLink and MENC hope to expand the USAAAMB in future years. “I’m hoping down the road that someday we’ll have 150 kids out there with All-American status from all different schools including a national color guard,” Prato says.

To apply for next year’s USAAAMB, visit http://www.menc.org/v/band/u-s-army-all-american-marching-band. Applications are due April 15.

About the Author

Elizabeth Geli is an editorial intern at Halftime Magazine. She is currently a junior majoring in print journalism at the University of Southern California. She began playing flute 11 years ago in her hometown of Placentia, Calif. Now she plays in the USC Trojan Marching Band and has supported the teams at back-to-back-toback Rose Bowls, the NCAA basketball tournament and as many other games as possible.

Photo courtesy of SportsLink.

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