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CHS Marching Band Rises ‘From the Ashes’ in New Routine

By Amanda Valentovic (courtesy of the Essex News Daily)

Marching band learns new routine, becomes unified team

MAPLEWOOD / SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The Columbia High School Marching Band launched its 2017 season on Aug. 21, opening a weeklong band camp on the school’s campus to learn a new halftime show and teach the band’s newcomers how to march. The sounds of woodwind and percussion instruments rang through the hallways on the first day of the band’s new school year as band director Peter Bauer began to put the show together. The performance, titled “From the Ashes” and clocking in at seven and a half minutes, is based on the legend of the phoenix.

“The phoenix rises, is consumed by fire, and then is reborn,” Bauer, who is starting his 13th year at the helm of the band, told the News-Record during some of the band camp’s downtime. The idea originated from the anticipation of the impending arrival of the band’s new uniforms, embracing the theme of starting anew. “We had our old uniforms for like 26 years, so it’s sort of a rebirth for the group. That’s why we went with the phoenix theme; we thought it would be appropriate for this year,” he said.

Each new school year’s show begins to take shape in December or January of the previous school year, when Bauer and the rest of the marching band assistant teachers begin to share ideas.

“They bring their ideas to the table, I bring my ideas, and we throw things on the table and hash things out and then we come up with the show concept and what we’re going to play,” Bauer said, adding that they don’t always start with the music or the field work for the show first. “As long as you start with a concept, you can build a piece of music around it. You can start with a cornerstone piece of music; you can start with a theme.”

Last year’s show was called “From Dusk Till Dawn” and reflected the stages of the night.

Band camp begins each year with introductions and icebreakers to help band members get to know new band mates before they begin learning the marching basics.

“We get them moving,” Bauer said. “A lot of these kids have played instruments before, but they’ve never marched or stood on the field with an instrument. So step one is to get them on the field and start doing that.”

For the season ahead, Bauer wants new band members and returning band members alike to have fun while outside with an instrument, as well as sitting in class with one. And, while having fun, Bauer sees to it that the marching band is entertaining for the audiences who will see them at football games and at competitions.

“We’re all volunteer, so kids who join marching band want to do this, they want to be here. I want them to have a positive experience doing this,” Bauer said. “We want to put on great shows for our audiences, obviously. We want them to be energized and excited by what we play and how we move.”

The six competitions and marching band festivals that come on the weekends after football games are also a big part of what the CHS band does throughout the fall months. The Cougars work as hard as they can before performing in front of a panel of judges, who then score them.

“It’s certainly nice to win, but that’s up to the judges and how well the show is put together and how well it’s performed. We have a great group of kids; they’re here to learn and enjoy this part of their musical lives while it’s here,” Bauer said.

At Columbia, marching band is viewed as a team like any other sport is, but there are a few differences. There are no levels on the team — everyone is learning the same thing.

“We’re different from other teams in that if you’re in marching band, whether you’re a first-year rookie or a veteran, you’re all learning the same show,” Bauer said. “The expectation of the performance is the same for everybody. Everyone is held accountable and held to the same standard. There is that important team concept that I want them to understand. Everyone has an equal stake in it; everyone shares equally in the performance. It’s not relying on one person or a few superstars, it really is everybody.”

There are approximately 30 new faces who will join the veterans in the Cougar band at their first performance on Friday, Aug. 25, at Underhill Field after an intense week of learning a new show.

“This activity is so physically demanding, and mentally demanding. The focus and the structure is incredible, and the fact that they’re willing to do it and are excited to do it is always amazing to me and refreshing to see every year,” said Kaitlyn Walker, the band’s assistant director and a woodwind specialist in the South Orange-Maplewood School District. “It’s a nice way to transition into the concert and wind ensemble program.”

Bauer agreed that learning the routine is demanding, saying that it takes a lot of time and dedication.

“It’s preparing seven and a half minutes of excellence, really pouring everything we have into that,” Bauer said regarding building a marching band show. “It is only seven and a half minutes, but there’s so much that goes into it. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Photos by Amanda Valentovic