At the Antelope Valley High School Band Tournament on December 3, probably the last band tournament of my musical career, the Santa Monica High School Viking Band dominated, winning Field Show Sweepstakes, Music Sweepstakes, Visual Sweepstakes, Showmanship Sweepstakes, Percussion Sweepstakes, and Grand Sweepstakes for overall best performance of the day.
The entire first half of our 17-hour day could be called a “rocky start.” Many showed up to school late, (granted, the call time was 6:15 a.m.), some arrived with only one marching shoe, and still more showed up without the warm attire required to face the threatening weather of Lancaster, California, which promised to drop below 30 degrees before the competition ended. In spite of these hurdles and more, we managed to load the buses and roll out of Samo a little after 7 a.m. to make the early call-time for the parade segment of the tournament.
It was the second and last parade competition of our season (at the first, in Stockdale, the band won the Overall Sweepstakes award), and though we hadn’t spent nearly enough time learning Sousa’s “Gridiron Club March” or practicing a parade block, we were still unpleasantly surprised at placing last in our class in every category (marching, music, percussion, etc.). After the midday awards ceremony, depressed by the results, we trudged onto a field adjacent to the competition stadium to rehearse for the nighttime field show. Knowing that three hours of straight rehearsal would only tire us out further, assistant band director Dr. Abel Ramirez (who led the rehearsal) called the section leaders over, and told us to divide into sections: “Keep their feet moving and keep their eyes on the ball. You know what has to get done.”
Each section worked on specific marching techniques, breaking the monotony with little sprints around the field. For the last hour, the band regrouped and ran through the “trouble spots” in the show.
We left the windy field (which had ruts instead of yard-lines) just before 5, and headed back to the buses to eat dinner and warm up our instruments and bodies for the performance. As the temperature dropped steadily, band parents came around to the buses shouting: “Wear as many layers under your uniform as you can! It doesn’t matter the color!” (Because our uniform jackets are white, band members are usually only allowed a white t-shirt). We immediately piled on layer after layer, until we could barely zip up our suddenly snug uniforms. “They all looked like they put on 20 pounds,” joked band director Terry Sakow.
It should be noted that the band consumed over 20 gallons of hot chocolate generously provided by the superhuman band parents, during the day.
After shining our shoes, pulling on thin white gloves and having foot-long plumes tucked onto our hats, we gathered in a concert arc to warm up. “I was afraid that the cold weather would throw the band’s sound way out of tune,” Sakow later told me. “I was especially worried about one flute entrance. But when I listened to the music judge’s tape, at that spot he said, ’Wow. That was really good.’ “
We had gotten ready early, so Ramirez instructed us to get into our sections and stay warm and motivated. I gathered with the clarinets, and we all linked arms and spiraled into a tight ball. That was when I had my first “moment.” As I looked around at the faces of the people I had spent countless hours with since summer band camp, the freshman I had taught to march, the juniors I had taught to lead a sectional, I became a little choked up, and couldn’t think of anything particularly motivational to say. One of my freshmen, famous for her hilarious non-sequiturs, took care of it for me: “I love being a clarinet.”
Before we knew it, the speakers around us rumbled: “Santa Monica, you may take the field.” We silently marched to our opening set, and stood at attention, waiting for the words: ” Santa Monica, the judges are ready.”
I won’t lie; it wasn’t our best performance of the season. But under the circumstances (freezing weather, fatigue and insignificant rehearsal time), it was a performance to be proud of. We marched off the field with our heads high and our fingers numb, put our instruments back in their cases, threw on jackets, hats and scarves over our uniforms, and raced back to the stadium for the awards ceremony. We sat down on the strips of rug the band parents had lovingly laid over the icy metal bleachers and cheered as our drum major, senior Mike Smith, and color guard captains, seniors Ariel Rowin and Melissa Foran, marched onto the field with the student leaders of our rival bands.
Because the three had to remain in uniform, I was worried they would freeze. I needn’t have worried; they kept warm by constantly moving to the middle of the field to accept one trophy after another. During the presentation of the Sweepstakes awards (for highest score in every category), Smith couldn’t even make it back to his place on the field with one trophy before being called back to accept another, larger one. “Not so fast, Santa Monica,” the announcer boomed out at least three times.
When the ceremony ended, our three student leaders waddled over to the band under the weight of six huge trophies, three plaques, and a giant banner reading “Antelope Valley Grand Champions 2005.” The band screamed, cheered, whistled and, in my case, cried as Smith, Rowin and Foran preformed their elaborate salute for the last time.
“The Lancaster event ends a very successful season for the Samohi Band,” said Sakow. “The band had won a sweepstakes award at every tournament it attended: A feat unmatched in recent band history.”
For a digital video of the band’s performance, visit www.samohiband.org.