How Marching Band Made Classical Music Rock

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Bach and Beethoven, two classical composers, have been present in performances for three centuries. Many musical groups have played them and offered their own interpretation of the works. This fall, Verona’s Marching Maroon and White added something else to the firmly prestigious works: rock. The presence of the Beatles, Fall Out Boy, and Paul McCartney and Wings in the fall show added an extra dimension to an ordinarily straightforward classification of music. In the immortal words of “Live And Let Die”, this is an ever-changing world, and Verona did not shy away from such a proverb in trying something new.

The band started with Wednesday rehearsals in the summer, where new members were introduced to the drill for marching, as well as the music they would be playing in the show. For program veterans, the rehearsals allowed time to refresh basic skills such as marching, and to build a connection with their new instrument sections. The work all came to a head during band camp, where for a week the band learned their drill and put the show on the field.

Erik Lynch, who has spent more than 22 marching band seasons at Verona High School, directed the band once again this year. He was joined by a VHS alumna and aided by the seniors on the color guard, who took on leadership and mentoring roles because the band could not pay for the outside instructors it has used in the past. “We are grateful for the staff, design team, very strong leadership team, and a willingness to serve among everyone in the band,” Lynch said. “To dedicate ourselves to something bigger than us as an individual.””

Olivia Fiore, a 2018 graduate of Verona High School, served for her first year as assistant band director and was responsible for much of the visual aspects of the band’s performance. Fiore helped direct bodywork including swaying, lunging, and toe-tapping throughout all three parts of the show. These seemingly small details often happen while a band is not marching and they are important factors in the overall quality of a performance.

The show itself was a collage of classical music and modern rock. The show sampled Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Live and Let Die” and “Thanks For The Memories” by Fall Out Boy and contrasted them with Bach’s “Toccata & Fugue in D Minor” and Bach’s “Cello Suite in G Major.” The visuals of the show included a large amount of bodywork and marching techniques such as fluttering. In the act of fluttering, band members run quickly while separating their upper body by keeping it straight. This allows the band to reach their spots in a restricted amount of time, while still looking professional. The show had several of what the marching band world calls hits, points at which a band comes together to make a large impact on the crowd. This syncing of two distinct genres allowed for the Maroon and White to put out a product onto the field that was unique and unorthodox.

At the beginning of the season, the New Jersey Marching Band Directors Association put Verona’s band in the AA category because the band was slightly smaller than it had been last year, when it was AAA. This meant the band would go up against bands of similar size, such as Roxbury and Governor Livingston.

Weather is always a factor in marching band season, and this year was no different. Verona got an extra week of preparation for their first competition when the Roxbury opener was canceled due to bad weather. The next week, when the band debuted at Randolph, they took home fourth in an extremely tight-knit competition. In the following competition at West Orange, they placed third going into their home show. Despite the rainy weather Verona hosted the show indoors, and persevered to create an outstanding performance. The next week saw Verona travel to Wayne Valley where they took home fourth out of eight bands despite being the smallest school and with all but one being double Verona’s size.

After another week of practicing on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Verona took on its most ambitious project yet, competing in the Bands of America New Jersey Regional Championship (above) at Rutgers University’s SHI Stadium. Bands of America is one of the most prestigious marching band organizations for high schools across the country, and Verona was one of the few smaller schools that had the skills–and audacity–to compete at such a prestigious tournament. Bands of America categorizes bands based on school size, rather than the size of the band. Verona was the only single A band at the Rutgers competition. But there were 13 single A schools in the three regional championships across the country on October 28, and Verona’s band placed second among them.

And now there is time to reflect. “Marching band was a fun even if exhausting experience for me.” said Aidan Azarowicz, the senior assistant drum major. “It taught me so many life lessons, like being early to things, having respect for peers; stress management; controlling burnout; and learning to take time for myself. All while meeting some of my best friends as well.”

Sophomore tuba player Andrew Ackerman concurred. “Band has, without a doubt, shown me truly what hard work and dedication can lead to,” he said. “As a group, we do so much and work so hard and that couldn’t happen without the hard work we do on an almost daily basis.”

Drum major Fiona Church believes the results were worth the effort. “This season there was a lot of change within our program but it only made us work harder and grow closer as a group,” she said. “This season was one of the smoothest marching band seasons ever from starting with a great band camp and ending with an amazing performance at Bands of America. I’m so proud of everything we accomplished together over the past season.”

This dedication will serve the organization well as they move into the next phase of the year, concert band, and the winter performance. Here the band will play the “King Cotton” march by John Phillip Sousa, “Sleigh Ride,” and “Auld Lang Syne.” This is again a wide diversity of music, but as the Verona band has shown, multiple genres can work together to create something amazing.

Photos: Lori Sickinger

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Daniel Frenklakh
Daniel Frenklakh
High school writer following football, marching band, swimming and various high school events.

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