CLAYTON — Today’s high school band programs are much more than just performing at football games and marching in a local parade. It’s become a competitive, year-round activity led by dozens of dedicated students, parents and teachers.
In the last decade, the popularity of Winter Color Guard and Percussion Ensemble competitions have filled the gap for students looking to still perform in the off-season, according to John Pearson, music director at Clayton High School.
“The circuit has quadrupled in size in the last ten years,” Pearson explained. “These are two completely independent groups that are judged and ranked.”
Late last month, the school hosted 67 local groups for the Atlantic Indoor Association (AIA) Percussion and Color Guard contest. Pearson said it was a huge group effort that required assistance from staff, club members and volunteers at CHS.
Kristen Graham, 18, is in her second year performing with the color guard. A flute player during band season, the senior said the program is like no other offered at the school. Color guard members twirl rifles, colorful flags and other props while dancing to lyrical musical accompaniment.
“We get the chance to really perform,” she said. “We have to make sure we smile and present ourselves in a way that the audience knows the story we’re trying to tell.”
Competition for the percussion ensemble is entirely different said member Kyle Levan, 18. The group remains stationary, restricted by the larger size of many of the instruments, including a marimba, a type of xylophone which Levan plays. Their goal is to have judges and audience members concentrate on the intricacies of the musical selections.
This season they are performing excerpts from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Bolero and Clair de Lune.
Both groups – the color guard and the percussion emsemble – practice after school a minimum of six hours per week and put in additional training during competition weeks. This season they will have the opportunity to perform at events locally and as far away as Virginia and Ohio.
“It’s a really big opportunity for the students to represent the school and our county,” Pearson said.
Smithfield-Selma High School is a frequent competitor with CHS. Jennifer Hinton has two daughters, Samantha and Katy, who participated in SSS’s band program. She believes these groups are an underappreciated art form.
“It’s a competitive sport,” said Hinton. “Winter color guard is a national competition and we have some of the best groups in central North Carolina. It’s more popular than you think.”
CHS senior Avery Molokach, 18, doesn’t compete in the winter season but serves as a volunteer to help the group’s coordinate props, set up performance tarps and assist with concessions. A member of the marching band and wind ensemble, she says it’s important to stay connected with her fellow band members.
“I want to support them because I know how hard they work,” Molokach said.
“Our band all works together as a family,” added Pearson. “We help each other out like a family should.”
Molokach has also recruited her own family, including both parents and two siblings, to help make the program a success.
“The program is all about camaraderie and pulling together to reach a common goal,” said Jennifer Hinton. “The things they are learning now will help them throughout the rest of their lives.”