Clarinet cases and water bottles are scattered haphazardly in the outfield grass on Chatfield High School’s baseball field. More than 100 students, most wearing shorts, stand at attention, waiting for cues from the marching band’s drum majors.
It’s a Saturday — homecoming day — and the band members have been rehearsing since 8 a.m. They get their first substantial break at 11:15. Fifteen minutes later, they’re back in formation.
“When does that crescendo happen?” band director Andy Michaud mildly barks over a megaphone. He stands 15 feet above the field on a scaffold, carefully inspecting the performance for aberrations — a flaw in the formation or an aural aspect that falls flat. “You’re still de-crescendoing. … That doesn’t make sense visually or musically.”
The monthly five-hour practice is the last of such extended sessions until the state competition, which begins Oct. 22.
Only two days before, on Oct. 14, the band placed sixth at the 5A regional competition. Ranked ninth overall in Colorado, the group is on the cusp of making the state semifinals. Only the top eight bands will advance to the final day of competition.
And despite all of stress and hours of organized practices each week — on top of classes and other extracurricular activities — the experience isn’t as daunting as it might seem.
“It’s better now than it was at the start,” said freshman clarinet player Natalia Cavalier. “I like the fact that we’re a big family and we all support each other.”
The idea of the group as a family — albeit one with 114 members — is not exclusive to the students. With the hours of dedication, often sacrificing opportunities with friends or traditional family, the faculty seems to share the sentiment.
“Academically, it creates stronger students. … The other benefit is the family it creates,” Michaud said, noting that the freshmen, who start band camp as early as May, don’t necessarily feel the same social awkwardness as their academic peers when the first bell rings. “The freshmen, by the time school starts, they know 150 people. … It’s an extension of my family.”
By coincidence, Michaud’s wife, Kathy, is the band’s woodwind instructor. And his daughter, Mollie, will be a freshman at the school next year. And though Michaud said Mollie could attend whatever school she wants, the same freedom isn’t granted when it comes to studying music.
“She’s the daughter of two music teachers, so it’s not an option,” he grinned.
The discipline in memorizing seven and half minutes of music and the associated visual performance paid off for Chatfield this year. They had the performance ready a month ahead of schedule, consequently giving them additional time to polish the routine. And they brought their rank at the regional competition up from 14th place last year.
“This is what all the top bands do,” Michaud said. “We’re not stressed about trying to get the show done. … We’re happy as dogs.”
The hard work transcends into academia, he emphasized, explaining that planning and impeccable self-control have benefits off of the field.
“We have more high-achieving students in this group than most groups at this school, just because of the discipline it takes,” Michaud said. “They’re used to getting their homework done on time. There’s no time to fall backward.”
This year’s band has unusually high enthusiasm, he said, noting that he selected musical arrangements to showcase a dynamic emotional range.
“It kind of sucks having to come here all the time, taking away from work and everything else — having no free time. In the end, when you go to state, it’s totally worth it,” said senior Thomas Wombaker, a baritone player in his fourth year with the band. “I think we have a shot, but we have to put forth the effort and focus.”
In addition to one Saturday practice every month, the band meets for nearly three hours, three times per week. They also rehearse the music in class, and individual sections hold their own practices once a week, too.
“I feel like I learn how to respect other people,” said Hannah Ohnan, a sophomore flutist, noting that she appreciates the discipline and teamwork but looks forward to the months ahead, when she’ll have more time for her friends who aren’t in marching band. “I like the social aspect of it, because they’re all my friends.”
On Oct. 22, Chatfield will perform its routine, consisting of Verdi’s “Dies Irae” and British composer John Rutter’s “Lux Aeterna” and “Gloria” at the Air Force Academy. The band has been scoring well, though a few points shy of the most competitive groups. Scores could easily go in its favor at the event, however, a culmination of the team’s hard work.
But simply getting to the competition could be the highlight of the trip.
“By the end of the season, you have a lot of good memories,” said junior Tara Monlina, a clarinet player. “The bus rides are probably the most fun. … We always sing a song for the bus driver.”