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Rapid growth produces more power, generates more energy around Woodland Hills Marching Band & Images Visual Ensemble

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Five students playing the trumpet in a marching band
Andrew Chiappazzi

Your eyes do not deceive you. The Woodland Hills Marching Band and Images Visual Ensemble does not just appear to be larger - it's actually grown significantly in just the span of a year. What's behind the growth? Passion, joy and pride.

It’s almost unheard of for a high school marching band to nearly double in size over the span of a year without adding grades or some other unique circumstance. But that’s the case with the Woodland Hills Marching Band and Images Visual Ensemble, which saw its numbers skyrocket from 64 members during the 2022 season to 107 this year.

“Last year, one of our big focuses was putting this back into an environment where the students were enjoying themselves and we were giving them meaningful music making opportunities,” band director and Woodland Hills alum Mr. Robert Carr said. “We were really focused on it being a fun environment, rebuilding the family environment, and my predecessor Kevin Shaw was also on that track.”

The increased membership means not only a more powerful sound, but a wider range of instruments. Where it lacked a low-end last year, particularly with brass instruments, this year’s group is balanced, even boasting a pair of loud and proud tubas.

The rapid growth has generated a palpable energy around the band.

“Having more people in the band definitely creates a bigger family environment,” junior drum major Liam Blaney said. “There's more people to get to know and you really just get to have more of a fun time getting to know people.”

Over 50 rookies from grades 8 to 12 are in the band, which has combined with the increased size to pose a few logistical challenges.

“Honestly, I feel like a big challenge for us with having a bigger band is tone, tuning, and getting everybody to focus at all times,” sophomore trumpet player Sonny Davis said.

A high school band member plays the trumpet

 

 

“It is definitely a lot louder than it was last year,” senior piccolo player Zoe Spear said. “But there are issues with having more people because some people are playing out of tune and then they're not recognizing that, because they're surrounded by so much noise that it's hard for them to focus on their personal sound.”

Those hiccups are quickly dissipating. The band took home three awards from the Group 4A Region 8 Preview of Champions Emory J. Toth Memorial Marching Band Classic at Penn Trafford on Sept. 9. It performed at a second competition at East Allegheny on September 16, which led directly into Homecoming week, where the band has multiple responsibilities. Chief among those is leading the Homecoming Parade, which will begin at 5:45 in Turtle Creek and wind its way to the Wolvarena prior to the Sept. 22 football game against Norwin.

Parades provide a new challenge, as the band’s traditional set of moves on the football field are scrapped for precision marching and a series of stops.

“You have to make sure that the band is together, both in tune with the music and in steps,” senior drum major Gretchen Van Deusen said.

 

Junior baritone player Zacharias Barron said parades require even more use of each member’s peripheral vision.

“You need to know whenever you're speeding up, when you're slowing down, and you need to make sure that you're in step and you're in line with the people that you're in line with,” he said.

A band member plays a clarinet while other performers play their instruments out of focus behind him

Homecoming is one of the band’s biggest nights during the football season. Band alumni who still have instruments are free to join the current band and play the stand music, much of which has been played since the band formed during the school’s first year in 1987. Choir alumni are also welcome to join the current choir for the national anthem and the alma mater.

That connection to alumni and the deep roots in the community separates Woodland Hills from other schools, assistant director Mr. Kevin Varga said.

“Having alumni day at the end of band camp, and there’s 20-30 alumni coming back middle of the summer on a Friday, it's just something that you don't see everywhere,” Mr. Varga said. “I think that's really special and unique and I feel happy to be welcomed into it and being able to be a part of it here.”

The band’s roster of instructors and volunteers is stacked with alumni, including Ms. Katie Miller, a Woodland Hills alum and longtime teacher in the district who serves as the woodwind instructor.

“It's a really neat thing to go from student to staff to now I have several former students that are colleagues,” Ms. Miller said. “We have so many staff members that are alumni because they care so much about the program. It did so much for them and they want to give back to it.”

After Homecoming, the band’s focus will begin to shift to polishing their routine in preparation for the Tournament of Bands Championship at Penn Trafford on October 21. Blaney said that the initial goal this year is at least a silver rating, which is a score of 80 or above.

“I would like to see us improve significantly, no matter what rating,” Barron added. “I just want to see us improve and grow as a group and as individuals as well.”

Now at full power, the marching band is now one of the largest activities in the district. The future is bright, and the current members are excited to see how the marching band can continue to grow and improve.

“I’m excited to come back next year and watch the show and see how everyone's doing,” Van Deusen said.

“Honestly, in this group, we have a lot of talent,” Davis said. “I know that with the younger members, even after we're all gone, we'll be able to come back and enjoy the marching band just how we enjoyed it when we were in it.”

“I am beaming with pride every day and the kids are sick of me for telling them how proud I am of them and of the program growing so much,” Mr. Carr said. “It's really meaningful to see that the program that meant so much to myself and that meant so much to my peers now means so much to my students and to their friends and to their families.”

Band members play their instruments during a show
 

The 2023 Woodland Hills High School Marching Band and Images Visual Ensemble

Theme: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Songs: “Good 4 U” by Olivia Rodrigo, “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga, “Creep” by Radiohead, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” by Ennio Morricone

Director – Mr. Robert Carr

Assistant Directors – Mr. Kevin Varga & Mr. Terry Zollner

Image Instructors – Mrs. Sue Delanko & Mrs. Vicky Hunt

Woodwind Instructors – Mrs. Maria Brucker Collins, Mr. Jamar Lee, Ms. Katie Miller

Brass Instructors – Mr. Eamonn Blaney, Mr. William Rachko, Mr. Kevin Shaw

Percussion Instructors – Mr. Francisco Rios, Mrs. Michele Zollner

Drill Consultant – Mr. Thomas Crone

Uniform Coordinator – Mrs. Cathy Powers

Equipment Manager – Mr. John Kacinko

Repair Technicians – Mr. Dale Hertrick, Mrs. Lora Hertrick

Drum Majors – Liam Blaney & Gretchen Van Deusen

Captains – Mia Damico, Sarah McCune, Maranda Weems

Soloists – Isabel Concepcion, Sonny Davis, Payton Frederick, Avery Henderson-Thomas, Aubrie Moon, Zoe Spear

Students dance as part of a routine during a marching band performance