Battlefield Marching Band – hard work, fun, and friendship
Photos by Karen Williams
When asked to describe students who participate in marching band, without hesitation Michael Britcher lists these attributes: “independent thinkers, responsible, and good character.” In his second year as band director at Battlefield High School, Mr. Britcher is prepared to bring the band, which consists of almost 200 students, to victory at local and regional competitions. With about a 60/40 split with girls in the lead – although each year this statistic varies – the team has already been through three grueling weeks of band camp, which started in August and ran from 9 am to 5 pm during the hottest weeks of summer. Camp is a huge challenge and a lot of work but it gives the students a headstart on the season. The team practices three times a week during the school year and will perform at each of the five home games during the season while traveling to five competitions in between.
Although relatively a new figure at Battlefield, Mr. Britcher has been involved with public schools for 20 years, nineteen of them as a band director. A memory of his father playing the harmonica along with the radio is one of his first recollections of music in his life. He knew all along that music would play an important role in his life someday, but it wasn’t until college, when he spent time mentoring local bands, that he realized how sharing his love for music with young people would affect his life so positively.
The kids at Battlefield are “so polite” and like “sponges” says Mr. Britcher. Students who desire to participate in the marching band have to be signed up for a band class as an elective class in their curricula. And although the practices and performances take place outside of the normal school hours, students receive credit for it. It’s very challenging, he says, of the nature of this activity. Although people don’t think of it as a “sport,” there is a huge conditioning element to the practices and athletic aspects like stamina and strength are necessary to keep up with the group.
“By the time they are finished with band camp, they know what they’re in for,” says Britcher. Freshman Phillip Vilar says of the experience, “After the first day I was really tired and I knew it was going to be a lot of work but I also knew it was going to be a lot of fun.” Initially overwhelmed at everything she was required to learn at band camp, Sophomore Julia Scott is now in her second year of marching band at Battlefield. She looks forward to the fun of camp and adds that she made new friends because of it. “It was a great addition to my life and I don’t ever regret it.”
Marching band is not only for musicians though. Another integral part of the band’s performance is the color guard. These athletic performers add some “razzle dazzle” to the show through the intricate uniforms, the silks (flags), and the makeup effects, says Laura Morgan, the team’s liaison but more affectionately known as the ‘color guard mom.’ Strings aren’t a marching instrument so while some strings players participate in color guard to still be a part of the band, others are athletes or dancers, and even gymnasts. But students don’t have to be any of these things to be successful in color guard. The color guard actually begins practicing a week before band camp and then joins the musicians at camp. Practice, practice, and more practice is crucial to color guard since the visual effects can have such an impact on the performance, and more so if the silks are spinning in perfect coordination. Requiring a surprising amount of strength and stamina, color guard performances involve sprinting all over the field, dancing, and spinning 6-foot and sometimes larger flags and air blades.
Even more crucial to students’ successful participation as part of this team is maintaining their own responsibility to learn the choreography and music. Since each student is just one piece of the whole group, they all must work simultaneously and in sync. This is where the good character comes in. Each student must put in the work needed to pull off their individual part so that they are supporting and cooperating with each member of the team. And because participation in the band requires so much of their time, it serves as a life lesson for the future in balancing their time with family, academics, and all the other things teens do these days.
Britcher believes that teens need to get involved in something to guarantee success in high school, whether it’s marching band, sports, or volunteering their time. Doing so puts them in contact with like-minded individuals who will serve as a peer group. With any activity, young people are giving their energy as well as sacrificing their own time for something greater. The Battlefield Marching Band just happens to incorporate a large population of great young people, he says.
Morgan echoes Britcher’s sentiments, explaining that since members of the color guard have already spent almost a month together in August, they come to the school year having already made friends. This is especially important for freshman since it takes away some of the intimidation of starting a new school with new people.
With close relationships with Reagan and Bull Run Middle school, Battlefield usually gains the interest of teens before their first year in high school. But many teens give themselves a year to get the hang of this new environment, then hear about how much their friends enjoy marching band, and end up joining in their sophomore year. Britcher hears many of these sophomores say they wish they had started earlier. Both Vilar and Scott learned about Battlefield’s marching band while in middle school and became interested in joining. This year, Scott plays the Alto Saxophone and Vilar is playing Bass #5 on the drumline. “It’s an exciting opportunity,” he says.
The theme for this year’s performances is Darkness to Light. A sort of “despair to victory” concept, explains Britcher. A custom arrangement will use contemporary songs to move the music from darkness to light. Accompanying the band, the color guard will start out with dark cloaks, and then a surprise reveal to really bring the theme to life. This performance is a slow build musically and visually. Battlefield has had a competitive team for years and Britcher hopes to continue that tradition. These committed and talented students will travel to South Carolina to the Bands of America competition this month where they will be judged in three different areas. The visual score recognizes how the team moves around the field and makes use of their space. They will also be scored on how they play the songs. Britcher says the biggest difficulty of participating in marching band is being able to play the songs while moving around but make it sound just as if they were sitting still. The third score category is overall effect which judges how well the performance drew in and engaged the audience.
Come out and cheer on these young people at the Battlefield home games and their other local performances. Doing so helps them raise needed funds for the team. To see the schedule and learn more about how to support the team, visit www.battlefieldbands.com.
10/12-14/18 Regional Competition- Bands of America Gaffney, South Carolina
10/20/18 Competition- Parade of Champions – James Madison University, Harrisonburg
10/26/18 Homecoming Game vs Stonewall Jackson 6:00 PM
10/27/18 Competition- Virginia Band & Orchestra Directors Association