SOUTH PLAINFIELD - The South Plainfield High School (S.P.H.S.) Marching Band heads to Harrisburg, P.A. this Saturday, Nov. 2, to represent South Plainfield and compete in the Tournament of Bands (TOB) Atlantic Coast Championships (ACC) Group 2-A at Central Dauphin Stadium. After a successful season of performing in weekly marching band tournaments, this weekend marks the final competition for the S.P.H.S. Tiger Marching Band.
“This is the culmination of all the hard work they’ve invested throughout the season, put into one seven minute performance on a national scale for our equivalency of national championships,” said Sean Fergusen, Assistant Band Director. “We’re facing off against bands as south as Virginia and as north as upstate New York. So this is it, this is what all the hard work throughout the season is come down to is this performance right here.”
The marching band has been hard at work adding new components to their field show as every move, musical note and special effect counts.
“I feel good going into the ACCs,” said Haughwout. “I think the kids are really ready to step it up a notch. I think they understand now what they have to do in order to take it to the next level, and they’re ready to accept the challenge. We’re throwing a lot of things at them because they can step up to that expectation and I know they can handle it.”
“It’s crazy going into national competitions,” said April Nguyen, senior member of the pit. “It’s quite nerve-wracking and anxiety provoking, but it’s really fun too. We’re doing something big. Usually we go to regionals and state, but this time, we get to go to ACCs, so I’m really excited for that.”
“The season has been really quick,” said Sophomore Jillian Delacruz. “I feel like the season just started, and we’re already going to nationals. Competitions are my favorite because you get to really bond with the marching band.”
On Oct. 19 and Oct 20, the band competed in state and regional championship competitions. While most of South Plainfield lay warm in their beds on the brisk Saturday morning of Oct. 19, students of the South Plainfield High School Marching Band took it upon themselves to brave the chill before dawn for one last run through of their field show before they boarded buses for the state competitions at Washington Township High School in Sewell, NJ.
“You can tell their dedication by the fact that they were all at the school really, really early in the morning, just to get that extra practice time in because they wanted it to be very special,” said Haughwout.
“The students of this marching band practice over 20 hours a week,” said Emily Niemeyer, Color Guard Instructor. “Competitions are from morning until late at night and a lot of the kids are taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes. They already have harder classes than most, and they’re doing way more hours for after school activities than most normal after school activities. Marching band is just a whole other commitment, and they really give it their all.”
The night before their pre-dawn practice, they were at the Friday Night South Plainfield Tiger’s football game in Edison, staying to the very end playing lively tunes to celebrate South Plainfield’s team spirit.
“Marching Band is like a family,” said Senior Harrison Anesh, alto saxophone. “Everyone has special bonds that they develop with each other that they wouldn’t ordinarily have. It helps not only improve your skills in music and your skills working with others, but it creates a lot of relationships that last a long time.”
With morale high on Saturday morning, the dedicated teens made their way down the New Jersey Turnpike to South Jersey on school buses, where they would compete against fourteen bands in their category for their place in the Tournament of Bands state competition. After warm-ups, the time had come for the band to make their way to the gate.
A team of loyal band parents assisted, pushing the large medal drum major podiums, xylophones, amplifiers and props onto the field. Quickly assembling the brick wall by laying sixteen large panels they had made months earlier to set the scene for this year’s theme, Another Brick in the Wall. The parents of the pit crew worked together, setting the stage for the show as they had done all season.
The familiar cadence of the drum line led the marching band onto the field, each member of the band marching in unison with heads held high.
“Walking onto the field, ready to compete is a really wild feeling,” said Senior Xavier Brown, snare drum. “Despite literally being on the ground, you feel so high up and you’re just really enjoying yourself.”
“I feel really proud of them when they come onto the field before competition, every single time,” said Haughwout. “It’s a mixture of emotions. There’s a little bit of anxiety because I just want to make sure that they do really well. There are a lot of different emotions, but I think mostly it’s pride, watching them and knowing that they have put this whole thing together, and they’re presenting it for everyone to judge.”
Taking their places across the football field, Sophomore Mikael Evans, who plays the synthesizer for marching band, cued up the start of the show.
“The elements of electronics is something new to our band,” said Evans. “It’s an amplification feature that we’ve never used before. The way that it works is I’ll have specific parts that play sound effects and it adds another level to the music. Where before we would have to use percussion to get the same level, it adds speeches and rhythm in a way that you can’t get from an analog instrument, adding a level of emotion to the music or bass drops and rises that allow transitions into different sections.”
Color guard sophomore Gerrolin Beauzile started the field performance, gliding towards the center of the field, her flag dancing around her.
“I try to represent what the show is about in those few moments that I have the audience’s attention,” said Beauzile. “It’s exciting and also nerve-wracking in a sense, but those two emotions correlate, so I just think of it as exciting.”
As the show began, students performed a sequence of choreographed moves while the amplified voices of leaders throughout history echoed through the stadium. As everyone lifted their instruments from the ground, the trumpets began.
“Just knowing you have the part of starting the field show is really special," said Junior Sebastian Annamanthado, trumpeter. “You always feel nervous, but when you start playing, it feels good.”
Away the marching band went, flowing into formations, their music reaching great crescendos as the entire band marched towards the audience side by side. The band quieted and all eyes rested on Senior Johnathon Mohan for a solo on soprano saxophone, his fingers flying up and down his instrument as the notes filled the air.
The band continued performing, building to a powerful finale. The words from the amplified speech lingered in the air, “We are the ones we've been waiting for!” And they finished their show, standing tall with pride, their fists lifted to the sky as the crowds erupted with applause.
Hours later, after all the bands in their category had performed and the judges scores were submitted, the bands’ drum majors and color guard captains made their way onto the field. Starting from fourteenth place, the announcer awarded each marching band their trophy. As they reached the final three, everyone held their breath. South Plainfield was the next announced and was awarded third place in the TOB NJ State Championships with a score of 88.935.
“They’re working really, really hard,” said Fergusen. “They’re focused on making the show as good as it can be. No matter what the obstacles are, whether it’s rain or shine or waking up super early in the morning, they’re very dedicated to what they do, and they’re willing to fight as much as they can to be the best band at TOB.”
The marching band’s weekend of performances would not conclude, however, until they performed the following night, Oct. 20, at Union High School for Regional TOB Competitions. The marching band reported at noon to the band room and practice resumed. The clouds had brought drenching rains all afternoon, so they set up their show on the high school auditorium stage. By 4:30p.m., the marching band was on their way to Regional Championships in Union, NJ. Dodging raindrops, they prepared for the performance with warm-ups. By 6:45p.m., they were at the gate awaiting their turn.
Once again, the drum line led the marching band onto the field. Despite the weather, slippery flag poles and soaking field, the band performed with the same amount of vigor and passion as they have always devoted to every performance, whether it be a pre-game football show or championships, where their overall placement in the state is at stake.
“After state competitions, we felt really good,” said Sophomore Alyssa Rivera, color guard. “Regions was a little different because it was rainy, and we were all exhausted. The flags were wet and soppy.”
When the scores were tallied and announced for regionals, South Plainfield was awarded a score of 88.39 and received seventh place out of the fourteen bands in the regional competition.
“All of us were disappointed with the scores that we got at the last competition because we knew that the number that we were given didn’t necessarily reflect all of the hard work that we’ve been putting in,” said Drum Major Leisel Co.
“The fact is with this activity, it is really subjective,” said Haughwout. “It depends on which judges you have, if you get a new judge who has never seen it, if you have a judge who has seen your judge several times before and is expecting something. The kids were disappointed, but they also understand that that’s true of this activity.”
“We always seem to face adversity, and we always come through,” said Senior Nilyn Meza. “We just have to keep on working hard, and we’ll get to our goal at the end.”
“We didn’t get a very good place in regionals, but going on from that, we’re just practicing harder to be able to grow for ACCs and have a really good competition,” said Rivera. “I’m feeling confident about the show.”
“I’m excited about going to nationals,” said Senior Jenna Elmasry, Color Guard. “I think we put in a lot of work this season and it’s the best we’ve had. And I think no matter what or how we do, I think that we’re going to still be really happy.”
The S.P.H.S. Marching Band’s final competition will take place on Saturday, Nov. 2, for the Tournament of Bands ACC Group 2-A Championships in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where they will be up against twenty-three bands. The S.P.H.S. Marching Band will perform their field show, Another Brick in the Wall, for the final time that day.
“Going into nationals, we’re all very excited,” said Senior Joseph Anesh, quad drums. “Regionals definitely wasn’t too great for us, when we got seventh. It kind of killed the morale, but I think we’re all trying to put in as much work as possible to just take that back and take what we deserve.”
“If you put your heart and soul into something that you spend your time on, it’s worth it,” said Sebastian Roher. “A lot of people underestimate Marching Band, but it gives you the drive for success and I believe we're going to succeed.”
“I’m thinking that even though there are so many bands that we’re going up against, as Mr. Fergusen likes to say, we need to put forth so much energy that they can’t deny us,” said Xavier Brown.
The admirable group of teenagers have given countless hours and months of dedication to take a bold stand with this year’s show, proudly advocating for peace, freedom, love and unity for all in the world.
“Leading into championships, I think we’re all really pushing for our come back to prove to all the people watching that what we have is something nobody else has,” said Co. “We can tell our story and tell what we believe in our own way. We have been preparing this entire season for this moment, so hopefully this coming week, it will pay off. We’re just really excited.”
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