By LARRY GAGE
Special to the PRESS
When I was a snare drummer in the high school marching band in Hampton, Iowa, a decade or two ago, our first day of practice always coincided with the first day of classes. That was in Iowa and that was back in the day.
Here in Texas today, the schedule for marching band practice is a little different. Percussionists in the Port Isabel High Silver Tarpon Marching Band, starting with the frontal ensemble, will report for their first practice this Monday, June 29th.
It’s a two-part process, this business of preparing a high school band for the fall marching season. There are the Friday night football half-time shows, of course. Then there are the marching contests, starting in October.
The Press visited recently with Scott Hartsfield, the head director of bands in the Port Isabel school system, and got a little preview of the new season from the perspective of the instrumental music department.
Just as high school athletic teams change from year to year, so it goes with marching bands, and Hartsfield described how this year’s band will be different from last year’s. “We have a lot more kids. It’ll be a full band and it’s a young band. It’s going to be a bigger band and hopefully a bigger sound than we’ve had in a while. We’re going to be figuring out where our strengths and weaknesses are.”
As the self-described old snare drummer from Iowa I’m always interested in what’s going on with the drummers, and Hartsfield thinks this year’s percussion section will be much improved.
“It’s a young group but I’m looking to put more kids out there. I’m hoping to have anywhere from four to six snare drummers out on the field. We’ll have four or five bass drummers and frontal ensemble will be the same numbers we always have.”
Hartsfield also reported that the general morale of the band is quite good these days. “It doesn’t hurt that we just got back from Florida. All kids love to travel.”
Each year the kind of show the band will perform at the football games and marching contests is influenced by expected number of student/musicians, overall and for each section. “Every group that comes in, they might be incredible players, top-notch kids, great with discipline … but maybe they don’t move their feet well. We never know 100% what we’re going to get until it’s up here. It’s a big band so we’re going to try to feature those sections that we know are going to be strong musically.”
Hartsfield reports a personal connection with the composer who’s preparing the percussion part of the new show. “He’s been a band director and he’s from the San Antonio area. And believe it or not I judged him at his first solo contest. I knew the kid when he was in junior high … he’s writing percussion music and now he’s writing my stuff!”
Snares, tenors, and bass drums will come in on July 13th, and all percussionists will start working together a week later. The band as a whole will gather together for its first practice on July 15th. The first football game is at home on August 28th and the marching contests will start in October.
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