VERONA, NJ - Many people know the Verona Marching Maroon and White as the force that livens up football games and excites the crowd, but they are more than that. They are the group that dedicates their time to perfecting their music and showing off their skills at multiple band competitions each season, and most recently, they are the group that took home first place in the biggest competition of the season.
The band, led by Director Erik Lynch, is comprised of 100 students, an outstanding number for a school with only about 600 students. The four sections – the pit or front ensemble, the marching drumline, the color guard and the woodwinds – started practicing for the season over the summer and continued to practice throughout football and competition season.
Lynch attributes the band’s size and dedication to the greatness of the town.
“Verona is a wonderful place to teach music,” Lynch said. “It’s really an anomaly to get a program of this caliber with the size of the school.”
The Maroon and White showed off their skills this season at the many football games, but as much as the band enjoyed the football games, Lynch said it was both the competitions and the team bonding that the students really loved.
“They love the competitions,” Lynch said of his band members. “Outside of that, they love section bonding. It’s where the flutes or the drumline will have a sleepover or all go out to a restaurant. On the day of the championship, they all made t-shirts and a lot of them quote the funny things I say or they say. It’s like the final chapter of a book.”
This year, Verona hosted the first annual North Jersey School Music Association’s Regional Marching Band Competition and earned first place in group and best overall music score.
That was not Verona’s only impressive competition. The marching band earned first place, best visual, best effect, best percussion and best color guard at the Roxbury Festival; they earned second place, best effect, best color guard, best overall effect and best overall color guard at the West Orange Festival; and they earned a gold rating at the NJMEA competition. Perhaps most impressively though, and most recently, the Maroon and White earned first place, best color guard, best percussion, best overall color guard, best overall percussion and best overall band with a score of 96.3 at the Bloomfield Festival.
To win that final competition was an incredible experience, especially for the seniors, Lynch said.
“It was really powerful. The last show was indoors on a rainy Sunday. I was very worried they were going to cancel and they didn't,” Lynch said. “The last show was in the gym. The seniors came out of the gym and started crying right away. Their tears said it all. It was a universal feeling among the band family that it was an incredible season. We worked hard, we played great music, we learned a lot and the process was an absolutely healthy balance of product.”
Kitty Pagano, a senior drum major, is proud that the band proved that a marching band does not have to be conventional and that they broke away from the standard by starting something new.
“I feel that this season was particularly inspiring,” Pagano said. “Not only amongst the Verona community, but amongst the entire high school marching band community.”
Kyle Smith, a senior trumpet and mellophone section leader, shared a similar sentiment, saying he is proud of his fellow band members for breaking away from the norm.
“It was a great and refreshing experience to be able to do something new and inventive this marching band season,” Smith said. “And I think it really ended up reflecting all the hard work we put in.”
Mike Petillo, Senior Percussion Caption Head believes the band’s ability to work as a whole and to challenge each other to pay attention to what was happening musically is what made the season a fun and humbling one.
“Most people in the audience just want to be dazzled. Most other bands' musical choices usually prove and reflect this,” Petillo said. “We are more than capable of doing that, but our brand of showmanship comes in the way we project emotion into the audience. It's a give-and-take experience; when the audience gives what we put out back to us, it only deepens the process. It's concise yet utterly magical and spiritual, and to finally be in a competitive division that values process over product was the cherry on top.”
It was the process that also made the season a memorable one for Lynch, who said that he values the educational value of the marching band over how many wins they may get. Instead of simply performing music that would gain them points, the band performed music that taught them something and that had a deeper meaning to it.
“Believe it or not, I’m not a huge competition guy,” Lynch said. “We’re entirely about the process and the education. We believe in choosing quality music and it’s almost a moral imperative for us to tackle literature that has substance.”
That belief and the amazing performances that came from it is what made this season a standout one for Lynch, the graduating seniors and the marching band as a whole. According to the accomplished director and the talented students, it is a season they will not soon forget.
“This season we evolved into a new marching band circuit while keeping the core values of our band family,” Lynch said. “And through our work ethic the season had a feeling of perpetual motion as we grew and evolved through each competition and performance."