By TEDDYE SNELL
Contest day for a member of the Tahlequah High School Orange Express Marching Band is a study in stamina and dedication.
Contests are generally held on a Saturday, following a night of marching at the THS Tigers’ Friday night football game. On game day, band members rarely get home before midnight and are back in action a few short hours later for contest.
Oct. 11-12 marked a contest weekend. After playing at the Coweta football game, the band was set to compete in the 37th annual Pryor Band Day contest Saturday.
The Orange Express’ field time in Pryor was 2:15 p.m., allowing ample time for early-morning practice and travel time. Students began arriving at 8 a.m. for what would become a 15-hour enterprise.
The band assembled on the THS practice field to drill the days’ upcoming performance. Band directors and staff Josh Allen, Orien Landis, Amy Clark, Darice Osborn, Brian Tschirhart and Josh Leach worked with the group, going over sections of songs, repeating, correcting minor inconsistencies and starting again.
“You have to look at your drum major; otherwise, the timing will be off. Then the woodwinds won’t have a lead to hear,” said Allen. “We’re going to start again, and if we make it through this section without error, we’ll move on.”
After about an hour of intense drill, the band broke up and returned to the bandroom, where band boosters and parents had a light lunch waiting. Students ate, changed into their “bibbers” – uniform overalls – and checked to make sure they had all the necessary performance equipment.
Invariably, a black sock has been forgotten, shoes have been left at home, or a glove is missing. All issues are remedied before boarding the bus. As the students file out of the bandroom, a uniform check is conducted: instrument, hat box, gauntlets, gloves, socks and shoes are all accounted for.
After arriving at the Pryor High School football field, the final pieces of the uniform were donned, coats were checked for lint, the green “Contagion” strips of fabric were affixed to both shoulders of the coats, plumes for the hats were distributed and gauntlets fixed in place.
Practice makes perfect – or almost so
Allen directed the band to the practice field, where once again, drills were run, instructions given, and encouragement offered by the directors.
At 2:15 sharp, the Orange Express took the field for its preliminary performance, playing its “Contagion” show, featuring the songs “Radioactive,” “Mad World” and “Night on Bald Mountain.” The crowd responded positively, and the 8 minutes flew by.
After leaving the stadium, the band re-assembled at the buses and waited for comments from Allen and Landis.
“I think that was a great run,” said Allen. “It really could not have been any better. But, we have to remember, we can only be responsible for our performance. We have no control over how the other bands perform.”
Instructions were given to the band to sit in the stands to watch competitors play. Saturday’s preliminary event included 24 bands, classes 4A through 6A. Schools attending included Fort Gibson, Sallisaw, Catoosa, Thomas Edison Prep, Tulsa Memorial, Grove, Muskogee, Ponca City, Charles Page and Neosho, Mo, to name a few.
The band, directors, boosters and parents filed into the stands, anxious to check out the contest. The kids analyzed their own performance, as well as the execution of others, along with having some light-hearted fun to break the tension.
At 4:45 p.m., preliminaries ended and judging for finals was announced. Of the field of 24, only 12 bands – including the Orange Express – were selected to play in the final round. THS snared preliminary trophies for first place in the 5A field contest, first place in the 5A percussion section contest, and second place in 5A color guard contest.
The Orange Express drew an 8:15 p.m. field time for finals, allowing ample time for the kids to grab hamburgers and hot dogs, provided by the boosters. They talked, played hacky sack and napped before taking the practice field for a final drill at dusk.
At 8:15, the moment of truth had come. The Orange Express was announced, and band members filed onto the field, lining up from sideline to sideline on the east end zone.
As the final performance commenced, fans, parents and members of competing bands clapped and cheered at crucial parts: a good crescendo, a perfect transition, or a flawless formation.
Waiting: Bated breath, fingers crossed
Then the waiting began. Fortunately, the Orange Express only had to wait a little over 90 minutes for the results. For anyone who has not attended a band contest, the final awards announcement involves the “massing of the bands.” Each band competing in finals takes its place on the field, with drum majors standing before their respective bands. Once assembled, the massing takes up the entire length of the field.
Saturday, the announcer began with the 12th-place finisher, and employed a delay between, “In 12th place,” and announcing the name of the band. About midway through the placing, the announcer named the caption awards, further building anticipation.
The Orange Express received a first-place finals caption award for its percussion section, being judged against all 12 bands, classes 4A through 6A.
Slowly, the field was narrowed to two bands: the Orange Express and Catoosa. After hearing they had not come in second, leaving only first place to be awarded, members of the Orange Express could hardly contain themselves.
Then, the announcement that the Orange Express had won the contest came, amid shrieks, shouts and whoops from both the students and the crowd.
Back at the buses, Allen and Landis praised the band.
“It could not have been any better; this is the best performance you have ever given,” said Allen.
Landis let the band know it had crested a summit.
“You have emerged from the cocoon,” said Landis. “You are not the same band you were yesterday, and you never will be after tonight.”
Monday, Allen congratulated both the students and staff for working so hard.
“Saturday’s results are a direct reflection of the hard work and dedication of all of our students and staff,” said Allen. “Tahlequah is an amazing place, and it’s so great to see it shine on such a large stage.”
Saturday’s trophies are on display in the THS administration building, and Allen encourages everyone to stop by and take a look. The Orange Express will perform “Contagion” Thursday at halftime, when the Tigers take on Tulsa Central at Doc Wadley stadium at 7 p.m.
CHECK IT OUT
The Tahlequah High School Orange Express Marching Band’s preliminary performance of “Contagion” at Saturday’s Pryor Band Day contest can be viewed at youtube.com/watch?v=szsy-wlqpsFg&feature=share.