Honesdale, PA - For over thirty years, as summer draws to a close, the drum roll of South Plainfield’s High School Marching Band can be heard echoing through the hillsides of rural Pennsylvania at Camp Cayuga in Honesdale. This year, the S.P.H.S. Marching Band spent the week of August 27-31 at Camp Cayuga for an intense week of practice to finalize this season’s performance entitled, “Illusions.”
“Band Camp is when we learn the field show and music for the upcoming season,” said Band Director William Haughwout. “We also have the opportunity to bond as a group.”
Every year, the marching band boards school buses for a three hour drive to Camp Cayuga, located deep within the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, where black bears lumber through nearby forests and stars seem close enough to touch in the night sky.
“Band Camp is an amazing experience that some people aren't able to have,” said Junior Aleks Slicner, Drum Major. “Far away from society and the nearest cell tower, you have an incredible opportunity to bond with your bandmates.”
“Band Camp is about being together as a band to learn the drills and music,” said Senior Jullianne Chavez, who plays the xylophone. “We work harder and harder so we can have the best show for the season.”
Walking at least thirty-six miles over the course of the week as recorded by students wearing distance trackers, days of marching drills began early morning and went late into the night.
“The students take twelve hours a day to work,” said Sean Ferguson, Assistant Marching Band Director. “They are not only practicing, but building muscle memory so they can essentially be able to do the performance second nature for the rest of the season.”
“You really find a groove after the first day of Band Camp,” added Haughwout. “You get used to the pace of the rehearsals and you keep pushing. The kids are up for the work and do a great job.”
“We practiced over and over again,” said Freshman Jillian McConville, Trumpeter. “I just didn’t want to stop until I got it right, no matter how tired I was. Quitting was not an option for us. We were there to better ourselves as a band and as a team.”
The S.P.H.S. Marching Band has been going to Camp Cayuga for generations.
“The last time I was here was twenty-four years ago when I was a senior in high school,” said Band Parent Jay Buchanan. “Driving in was really nostalgic and very emotional just thinking about all the fun things that we did here.”
Students were first given the sheet music for the performance in May of 2018 so they could memorize the songs. Throughout the summer, they met for regular practices. Freshman and those new to marching band had the added challenge of learning how to march and play at the same time.
“Playing music alone is challenging in and of itself because your mind has to focus on many little things at once,” added Buchanan, who plays classical double bass and electric bass professionally. “When you’re in a marching band, there’s a whole other element added, which is definitely challenging.”
Many students march with heavy instruments like snare drums, bass drums and the contra tuba, with weights nearing twenty pounds or more.
“The weight is still centered on the body, but it’s a lot of weight forward so they’re using back muscles,” said Ferguson, who was a tuba player when he was in marching band under Haughwout’s direction.
“I actually find marching and playing a bit easier because you’re moving all the time and it allows you feel the beat, which really helps,” said Freshman James Buchanan, who plays the Bass Drum.
By 9am each morning of Band Camp, students are on the field marching. Morning dew from the country air soaking through shoes and socks, they repeat each segment of the show over and over again until it becomes engrained in them.
“A lot of people think they come up here to Band Camp to have fun and play around,” said Band Parent Trinette Dungee. “I don’t think they realize there’s such a strict schedule and they have very little down time. They literally are only in their cabins to sleep.”
Students are given thick packets of papers to study. To an amateur, the pages resemble geometrical mazes of dots. To the students, they are the blueprint of the show.
“It’s almost like a big puzzle, once you figure out what the pieces do, you’re just connecting them so that it becomes one big picture by the end,” said Ferguson.
“It’s an interesting process to watch,” said Jay Buchanan. “First, they learn the positions by looking at the print out of the drill and then they practice stringing together the sets with just a metronome, then listening to the music. Then they’ll perform the field show while playing the music.”
Haughwout and Ferguson have students repeat the segments over and over with meticulous precision.
“My legs hurt so much, but we kept going to perfect our routine,” said Sophomore Caitlin McConville, Clarinet Player. “Our routine needs to be perfect.”
“It’s not just like playing an instrument while you’re walking in time,” said Haughwout. “You have to go to a specific spot to make a picture. So there are a lot of parts of the brain working together at the same time. It’s repetition and than building on that repetition.”
By lunchtime, as temperatures can near 100 degrees with stifling humidity, students welcome a break for a quick bite to eat.
“They weather the elements,” added Dungee. “If it’s hot, they’re on the field. If it’s chilly, they’re on the field. If it’s raining, they’re on the field. But you can see the difference in their work from the first day they get up here, to the day that they go home.”
Students are asked to be responsible, have their songs memorized and be on time for practices. Marching band builds character, but also encourages teamwork. In order to have a fluid routine, students must rely on one another.
“Band Camp’s a really fun thing,” said Freshman Joel O. Arias, who plays the xylophone in marching band. “The music is a lot more challenging than what I’m used to, but it’s been a fantastic week. I met a lot of people and made great friends.”
“You build a sense of brotherhood and camaraderie with other students at Band Camp,” said Jay Buchanan. “You learn how to respect each other a lot more when you’re here doing this for hours a day.”
“I think Band Camp is a really good experience for the freshman to get to know the seniors and all the other grades,” said Freshman Colin Campos, who plays the Bass Drum. “We have a lot of great experiences that apparently you get to tell stories about when you become a junior, which is also pretty fun.”
Aside from performing at halftime and pregame for football games, the marching band participates in a rigorous series of competitions. Last year, the band finished marching band season as champions taking home the Tournament of Bands New York Metropolitan Region 2017 Championship for their division. The focused intensity of Band Camp is an essential component of their success.
“You never know what the judges are going to decide during competition,” said Haughwout. “So what we can do is put the best that we can on the field and just hope the judges appreciate it and the audience appreciates that we’re performing a quality piece of art.”
This year, Assistant Band Director Ferguson created the field show for the students.
“Mr. Ferguson is really the visual director on the team,” added Haughwout. “So he does the movements, the choreography.”
“I created the formations that you see on the field, mostly because I know the kids,” said Ferguson. “They’re awesome and I know what they are capable of. I’m looking forward to an amazing season.”
Also an essential part of Band Camp is team building to help foster elements of teamwork that are essential for performing as a unit.
“We do fun activities too like team bonding, where we combine with classes and do activities such as Band Camp Pageant of 2018,” said Chavez. “It just shows the spirit of Band Camp, that we’re one family, getting along and we’re trying our best to make it happen so we can make our directors proud of us.”
“My favorite part of the week was the team building exercises like the Human Knot and Capture The Flag,” added James Buchanan. “We got to hang out as a group.”
The team building segments of the day are brief reprieve from repeating field drills and practicing music. Four hours each afternoon are spent back on the field to march in the hot sun or pouring rain until dinner.
“They’re good kids and they’re disciplined,” said Dungee. “They help each other out a lot, even if there’s a little discord between them. When it comes to them being on the field and doing their sections, they’re there to help each other.”
Evening practices often go late into the night. Students work under portable lights swarming with insects attracted to the dimly lit beams in the pitch dark of the countryside.
“In the beginning, it’s hard for everyone, but in the end, it all pays off and it’s worth it,” said Junior Brianna Tapanes, Trumpeter. “At the end of the week, we all have our show and we all feel good and proud of ourselves.”
Late night S’mores by the fire, movie night and an ice cream social help students let off steam at the end of a hard day, but the notorious tradition of Prank Wars at Band Camp is what most students seem to enjoy the most.
“I probably have to say Prank Wars are the most fun part of the week,” said Campos. “The seniors went into my room and they covered all of my stuff in shaving cream. That was pretty funny.”
“I think it’s a good release for them to do Prank Wars,” said Dungee. “It can get a little bit out of hand, so it’s just a matter of staying on top of them so they don’t go too far with it. But after they’ve worked out really hard, you want them to have fun.”“The pranks are fun,” said Arias. “I had to take a shower because of Prank Wars. I had shaving cream and silly string everywhere.”
“I got a lot of pranks,” said James Buchanan. “And a lot of them were really dumb and silly, which made them even better. I wanted to see what happened next to my cabin.”
All parents of students in the music program at S.P.H.S. are encouraged to become Music Boosters and help in any way they are able. Several parents volunteered to chaperone for Band Camp and many said they treasured the experience of being a band parent.
“When I was in the band, I was just a part of it, a spoke in the wheel, and I wasn’t necessarily thinking about the big picture,” said Jay Buchanan. “On the sidelines, as a helper parent, I can see it all happening. It’s really amazing to be here with my son.”
After a week of practicing drills in the heat, rain and chill of night, the S.P.H.S. Marching Band was ready to head back to South Plainfield prepared for a season of football game performances, exciting days of competition and ongoing practices several times a week.
“This group is extremely dedicated and really hardworking,” said Haughwout. “They have a lot of fun with it too and enjoy it.”
“I really had fun, met some new friends and really loved Band Camp,” said Sophomore Johnathon Gonzalez, Clarinet player. “I’m looking forward to a good season.”
“So much hard work goes into this,” said Slicner. “Twelve hours a day spent with fifty-two other people. At the end, you’re happy it’s over, but you’re sad to leave. And you leave, anxiously anticipating next year.”
“I think this season’s going to be as awesome as last season,” said Ferguson. “They have a solid show both musically and visually. I think they’re going to be a competitive force this year.”
The S.P.H.S. Marching Band’s first Competition will be held on Saturday September 15th at Jefferson Township High School located at 1010 Weldon Road in Oak Ridge, NJ beginning at 5:30pm. Tickets bought in advance will benefit the S.P.H.S. Music Program and can be purchased by calling the Music Department at 908.754.4620 ext. 1150. For information about upcoming events, or to become a Music Booster, visit the S.P.H.S. Music Boosters Facebook Page.