Marching band ‘on guard’ for upcoming season

September 8, 2016 — by Elaine Fan

On a recent night, the marching band practices its field show on Benny Pierce Field.

Learning of new field show begins under new director.

In the marching band’s field show this year, two groups approach each other from opposite ends of the field, as if they are two opponents acknowledging each other before sparring. Others mimic fencing stances with sabres, as they pair up to imitate a match.

The band has been practicing this routine, called is En Garde, in preparation for their first competition on Oct. 8, the Cupertino Tournament of Bands at Cupertino High School. The title is a warning given before a fencing match, meaning “on guard” in French.

“It’s very innovative and different from the shows you normally see,” sophomore colorguard member Alex Ruemmler said. “The theme gives us a character to play, which is really nice.”

The concept for the show was revealed to the marching band during the annual kickoff at the start of summer break, where they were given their sheet music.

Originally titled “Cinderella,” the music for En Garde was repurposed to mimic the fencing theme. It takes music from Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty Waltz” and Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2.”

Students also began learning for the performance during the last two weeks of summer break in band camp.

The annual, intensive, two-week camp began on Aug. 3, and continued until Aug. 13. According to sophomore trombonist Caroline Okuno, band camp this year did not last as long as last year’s, and the heat was milder, so it “wasn’t as physically intense,” despite the infamous 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. rehearsals.

Since many of the instructors were at the Drum Corps International (DCI) nationals, the camp had fewer instructors than in the past. However, Okuno said they progressed considerably faster than last year, and they didn’t waste as much time.

“We didn’t spend as much time transitioning between activities, socializing or mindlessly working out,” Okuno explained. “Instead, we were teaching what we needed people to get good at and doing it as fast as possible.”

In addition, the marching band received help from alumni, such as 2014 graduate Lauren Casey-Clyde, a former drum major and baritone player, as well as their new conductor, 2011 graduate Jason Shiuan.

“The biggest difficulty has been time, because it always feels like we’re behind,” Shiuan said. “Otherwise, it’s been relatively smooth. Everyone has been cooperative and really great, and they’re learning things really fast. I think we’re on track to do pretty well; we just have to keep pushing.”

The band practiced on the newly installed upper field for the first time, but found that the light green yard lines were difficult to see,  which interfered with learning new drills.

The idea of a drill is that each student has a specific position, and this forms a picture on the field. Students learn their positions drill set by drill set, then music is added on top, and finally the color guard choreography is added, so “it becomes this whole ensemble,” Shiuan explained.

The 32 members of the color guard had several additional rehearsals before band camp, where they learned the warm-ups and other basic exercises.

Aiming to be as precise  as possible, the coaches had the color guard watch fencing videos.

“They told us to do some research and give them facts about fencing,” said Ruemmler. “It was pretty cool; I learned a lot.”

The guard remains virtually unchanged from last year, since no seniors graduated, and only five new members joined. As a result, the group is “tight knit,” and the members are “meshing well,” Ruemmler said.

For many students, marching band has become a second family.

“I know it sounds really cliché, but my favorite part about marching band is growing with the people around you,” Okuno said. “We spend a lot of time together, and go through a lot of really stressful events, so we develop a good bond. It’s like family.”


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