The Tahlequah High School Orange Express marching band hit Gable Field for the first halftime show of the year Friday night. And if the sight and sound seemed large to those in Doc Wadley Stadium, it's because this is the biggest band in the school's history, according to Director of Bands Josh Allen.
"I'm pretty sure we're the largest in 5A. Over the past five years, we have seen the high school band grow from 100 to 160," said Allen. "We have 115 wind players, 26 color guard, and 20 percussion."
He attributes the growth to a focus on retention.
"This is my 20th year to teach and, over the years, we have seen an increase in elective choices for students - which is a great thing. Over the years, we have actually seen a slight decrease in the number of sixth-grade beginning band students. So we knew we needed to work on retaining the students we have," he said. "That has led to a very large increase in our band program."
Along with Allen, THS has two assistant directors of bands, Courtney Clear and Erin Epperly.
"We also have other six supplemental staff members that help instruct the band for marching season," said Allen.
Only 28 members are seniors this year, and although they may not get as many solos in such a large group, some of them are enjoying it more.
"It's more than a marching band; it's a family," said Mariah Kimble, clarinet. "I've never had a better year. The music is a lot harder, but it's so much more interesting."
Senior Lillie Vann, baritone, said this halftime show is the best in the past four years.
In order to have a fluid show, a concept is usually developed - including props to go with it.
"This year's show is titled 'Curie,' and it represents the life and achievements of Marie Curie, the first Nobel Prize winner, and the only one to win two Nobel Prizes in two different sciences," said Allen. "The modern piece of music that we use is 'Radioactive,' by Imagine Dragons."
By starting in July with a two-week camp, the Orange Express has five songs in production, hoping to have completed three by the first football game.
"It's a really good group and a good show concept," said senior Meg Thompson, head drum major. "As long as I've been in band, it's the best year so far. We would not be where we are without Mr. Allen and his hard work."
While working hard is a key to success, so is proper equipment. The marching percussion section has new drum harnesses due to a grant from the Tahlequah Public Schools Foundation. Allen said it has made a huge difference in the percussion students this year.
"It's a health hazard no longer. They were older than us," said senior David Veith, who plays snare.
Zack Hance, senior, plays tenor drums, and he said that because of the new drum carrier, his back no longer hurts. He added that band is a lot of work, but he encourages younger students to get involved.
"It might feel like it sucks, but when you get on the field, it's worth it," said David. "You make lifelong friends. Meeting kids from other bands is fun, too."
The Orange Express has five marching contests on its calendar, including a state one set for Oct. 30 in Tahlequah. In March, the group will travel to Disney World in Orlando, where they will be marching in the afternoon parade in the Magic Kingdom.
"They will also be participating in a Disney workshop that will involve our band students getting to record on a Disney sound stage," said Allen. "They will then use the recording of our band and dub it into a Disney cartoon and give us the DVD of the whole experience."
Out of the seniors interviewed, most preferred the fall marching season over the spring concert time.
"During marching season, you get a lot of intimate time with your friends," said Lillie. "It's music-focused in concert band."
Whichever season, most students appreciate the crowds who cheer for them, and want more people to attend football games and marching contests.
"Come support us," said Meg.