SOUTH PLAINFIELD - The South Plainfield High School Marching Band took home the first place trophy for their division at the Tournament of Bands (TOB) Metuchen Marching Band Competition Sept. 21. With a season of weekly competitions still ahead, the 2019 marching band season is off to a great start. The band and color guard have been practicing since spring, even traveling to rural Camp Cayuga in Honesdale, PA from Aug. 26-30 for an intensive week of practice.
“I feel like they’re doing really well,” said Band Director William Haughwout. “They have a great attitude, which is a big help. They have great peer leadership and it shows throughout the entire band. I’m sure it will only get better. It’s very exciting.”
Every weekend, marching bands compete throughout the region in TOB competitions from September through the beginning of November. Bands are grouped according to size and receive scores based on a long list of meticulous criteria. Going into the Metuchen competition, the band was full of excitement.
“We felt great before we performed the show and even better afterwards,” said Junior Sebastian Annamanthado, trumpeter. “We were really motivated. It’s good that we’ve had this feeling from the start because it’s only going to get better from here.”
The scores are tallied from 1 to 100, and bands receive trophies based on their score compared to other bands in their group at each competition. Scores are also compiled on a regional level. Currently, South Plainfield is ranked eleven out of thirty-one bands throughout the region in their grouping, Division 2A.
“Walking off the field after the Metuchen performance felt so good,” said Joel Arias, sophomore bass player/pit. “Knowing that we played the way that they did when the first time we’re doing the amplification and voice-overs for this kind of marching band show in South Plainfield.”
This year’s performance theme is “Another Brick in the Wall,” and involves mastering electronic technical elements that South Plainfield High School has never attempted before.
“The theme of the performance shows that everyone has the ability to make change and make an impact on the world,” said Haughwout. “We’re introducing the new elements of amplification on the field and it also has a message to it that the kids can relate to. I’m really excited about this season.”
“The whole concept of another brick in the wall is that we’re trying to not be another brick in the wall,” said Assistant Marching Band Director Sean Ferguson. “We’re trying to break free from putting a label on each of the people in mass. What we’re looking on trying to convey to the audience is just the idea of freedom.”
The field show uses powerful excerpts from speeches of leaders throughout American History. Those who see the show say the effects paired with students’ performance are incredible.
“Can’t believe the show gave me goosebumps in this crazy heat,” said Gina McConville after the Metuchen performance.
“Today we were so ridiculously hot, but we went on the field, and we gave everything we had,” said Sophomore Alyssa Rivera, color guard. “The drill was great! The work was great, the music was great and then I got off the field feeling very proud of everyone for what we had accomplished. When they were announcing second place and I heard that it wasn’t our band, I knew we got first. It’s only our second competition, and we won first place. I thought that was really awesome.”
The marching band has come a long way since band camp in the last few weeks.
“I’m really impressed on how the band has evolved from the beginning until now with memorizing music, memorizing dots and all the energy on the field,” said Drum Major Jessenia Moreno, junior. “I feel the energy before and after the performance. It’s such a big growth from the first day that we started performing this show until now and having all the new visuals. It’s such a good show.”
The performance has been the culmination of months of hard work. The last week of August, students traveled nearly three hours from home for an intense week of practice at Camp Cayuga in the hills of Pennsylvania.
“These kids work extremely hard at band camp and every practice,” said Trinette Dungee, Music Booster and Band Parent. “Just to watch them repeat things over and over again. When Mr. Haughwout or Mr. Fergusen say reset, they do it, no problem. They want to get it right, so they practice each set over and over, rain, snow, or sleet. They work!”
“Band Camp was really amazing,” said Ferguson. “The kids worked really hard. This particular group of kids is very excited to do new things. There’s a lot of choreography this year. We instituted a bit more hip hop, more jazz, and they were all for it.”
“We definitely put in a lot of work at band camp,” said Annamanthado. “We realized that this show was special, and we knew we had to perform it. It showed in the results of the competition. It’s only going to get better from here. It’s definitely coming together and it’s a great feeling to perform it.”
A tradition for over thirty years, the South Plainfield High School marching band and color guard go to Camp Cayuga and spend the week in cabins, so they can spend hours at a time throughout the day putting the music onto the field and into formation.
“Band camp is where the kids put the music onto the field,” said Jay Buchanan, Music Booster and professional musician, who assisted with sound effects during band camp. “Everything about the visual aspects of marching band comes together. So it’s a place where they can marry the music to the show to all the visual aspects of it.”
“I liked everything about band camp,” said Sara DeSimone, sophomore woodwind player. “I really like the show. It makes me feel powerful.”
The advantage to having a week without distraction away from home is train the students' muscles and really ingrain the field show into them.
“The repetition that they do over and over helps with the muscle memory that’s required to focus your brain on playing music as well as moving to a specific location in a specific number of steps,” said Buchanan, who spent time on the South Plainfield High School field as a musician and drum major twenty-five years ago.
“We came a lot farther than we did last year during band camp,” said James Buchanan, sophomore percussionist. “I feel like it’s a lot of fun being with a bunch of my friends from school to spend a week with them. It can get rough sometimes, but in the end, it’s all a lot of fun.”
Another crucial element of band camp is bonding as a team. The marching band must be fluid on the field, anticipating one another’s movements and executing the field show with precision.
“Honestly, band camp is a really amazing experience,” said April Nguyen, senior member of the pit. “We get to go away from town. We go to a really secluded hill, and we get to bond with one another. It’s nice because we get to just really spend time practicing and learning our drill and show. It’s really fun, a once in a lifetime experience.”
“There’s also the side of band camp that nurtures a different aspect, the social aspect for the kids,” said Buchanan. “They could do this at home in the practice field outside of the high school, but doing it here miles away from home, with their friends staying in cabins also builds camaraderie. So band camp specifically creates that bond between the students, even though they’re all good friends anyway.”
“Band camp is an experience and it’s very fun,” said Arias. “There are pranks, there are laughs, and then there’s the hard work, which pays off after a while.”
The week away makes for memories that last a lifetime.
“Hanging out with my bunkmates and hanging out with my section is my favorite part of the week because we get to know each other better and become closer,” said Colin Campos, sophomore trombone player. “And this year's show is amazing.”
“My favorite part of band camp is the pranks and throwing water balloons and covering people in shaving cream,” said Caitlin McConville, junior color guard member. “I think we’re doing great. We’re only going to get better from here.”
“I think band camp is a lot of fun, besides the massive amount of work that goes into it,” said Junior Alex Martinez, trumpeter. “I think my friends were the best part. I could connect with them on a more real level at camp, since we spent so much time together. I think Mr. Fergusen and Mr. H. put a lot of effort into the show and it shows.”
This year, the students had their field show nearly mastered by the third day of band camp, an impressive feat, according to Haughwout.
“I’m so impressed by their work ethic,” said Haughwout. “The amount of work they did in even the first few days of camp was incredible, and they have consistently proven this as they work harder and harder each week.”
Several new band members ventured to band camp for the first time this year.
“There are a lot of people that I knew in the marching band and it seemed like fun,” said Rajan Balkarran, sophomore alto saxophone player. “I never really tried marching or anything before, so I thought it would be a new experience that I might like. I feel band camp helped prepare me for the marching season.”
“Band camp was really fun,” said Domonique Sharpe, freshman Miramba player in the pit. “It’s a good experience and I’m glad I went. The best part of band camp was making a bunch of new friends and having friends going into high school.”
The composition of the field show began last year as Fergusen and Haughwout chose the music and decided on choreography.
“Mr. H. and I were going through the design process and looking through shows and this show just jumped out at us because it makes a huge statement,” said Fergusen. “We feel the kids are very mature and ready to take on something that conveys a powerful message. From there, we started thinking about how we would represent the message on the field.”
“The show looks beautiful, and we can probably go really far this reason,” said Arias. “I was there when Mr. H. chose it, and I was like that’s the one!”
“The design process for the visual aspect started early, and we wrote drill,” said Fergusen. “We started doing choreography really early because there is a lot of choreography, a lot of drill, and it’s closely tied with the music and the voice-overs that we have in the show.”
“This show is probably one of the best shows we’ve produced so far,” said Nguyen. “Each year just keeps getting better and better thanks to Mr. H. and Mr. Fergusen. It’s all thanks to them really that we are able to put on such a great show.”
New to the S.P.H.S. Marching Band is Emily Niemeyer, Color Guard Instructor, who studies music and theater at Kean University.
“Most of the color guard this year is fairly new,” said Niemeyer. “We only have three members of the color guard who have experience, so most of them came in pretty much not knowing anything, and they picked up everything very fast. They’re really dedicated. Many of them are performers. They do theater as well, so they know how to do a live show, and they’re really good at taking a situation and if something goes wrong, they just keep pushing forward.”
“The color guard has done a really great job of learning to be more confident of members of this band and it shows, especially the rifle work at the beginning,” said Fergusen. “The way they throw the rifle down and do the three point turn us awesome. It’s really good.”
“The new color guard just picked everything up so quickly and I’m so proud of them,” said Junior Genesis Bosse, color guard. “We have a lot of sophomores and one freshman, and they’re just amazing. They picked up riffle work and flag work like it’s nothing. And rifles are not easy.”
Traditionally, on the last day of band camp, when the final practice ends, the seniors march off the field, arm in arm.
“It’s kind of sad being a senior and going to Camp Cayuga for the last time, but it’s like a legacy, leaving behind a little something,” said Nguyen. “It’s fun watching people grow, but it’s sad knowing I’m going to be gone. I’m finally a senior, but it’s upsetting at the same time.”
After the Metuchen Competition, the marching band finished their performance feeling accomplished and the months of hard work showed with the award of first place in their division.
“After today, it was a moment of yes, we can do this,” said Moreno. “We’re probably going to be in the top three at the end of marching band season. Maybe we’ll get first like 2017, but I feel like this year is the year that we’re going to win championships again!”
From camp to competition, the dedication of the marching band shows in their award-winning performance.
“Starting from camp, we were having some troubles in the pit with the new voice-overs,” said Arias. “But now in our second competition, look at us, first place! It’s a very huge leap and I’m very proud of the pit, being able to do this. They’ve really strived as musicians and tried their best, and they’re giving it their all.”
“It’s really exciting getting first place,” said Sophomore Catie Scheidemann, color guard. “They called our band first place, and I was so surprised.”
“It was a really good experience and really exhilarating,” said Sophomore Gerrolin Beauzile, color guard. “I feel like there’s no feeling compared to when you work so hard, like nine hours straight every day, and spending a whole week dedicated to the work and then it all pays off. You see the crowds’ expressions and how happy they are, and they clap during the hits. It just makes you feel great that you work so hard.”
“I’m really liking this year’s show,” said Dungee. “There are definitely some goose bump moments in it. It’s an amazing show!”
The marching band's respect for one another, the friendships they have fostered, and the experience as a team competing together, make the S.P.H.S. Marching Band an unforgettable experience.
“Honestly, this is a family,” said Annamanthado. “We go through everything together. I think we have a great relationship with everyone. And everyone’s really close-knit. We know what we have to do, and we work together to get it done.”
The S.P.H.S. Marching Band asks everyone to come out and support their 2019 Fall Music Festival and Home Show Competition taking place on Sunday, October 6th from 1p.m. to 6p.m. at Frank R. Jost Field, South Plainfield High School Stadium and Arena, which is located in back of the Police Athletic League (PAL), where seven marching bands from across the region will compete on South Plainfield’s home field in the South Plainfield TOB Competition. Visit the S.P.H.S. Music Boosters Facebook Page for more information.