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WHS band: New marching show rides the rails

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Even after a morning deluge the field behind Waccamaw Middle School looks a tired shade of green and brown under the late afternoon sun. The view is different for Nicole Davis, standing on a platform 5 feet off the ground. So is the sound.

“I can hear the music,” she said.

What she sees and hears is the Waccamaw High Marching Band’s new show. It isn’t 50 kids in shorts, T-shirts and accessories selected because Monday was Tacky Day at band camp. It’s uniforms. It isn’t the drone of the cadence count. It’s the brass, woodwinds and percussions.

Four years ago, Davis was on the field herself. Learning the routine as a rookie eighth-grade flute player. Now she is the drum major. A senior in the senior leadership role. “It’s kind of sad not to be marching,” she said. But her new role “gives me a chance to help the band out.”

This is the second week of camp, moved from Waccamaw High because of renovations going on around the music room. By the time the band gives a performance for parents Friday, they will have put in 80 hours rehearsing the music, learning the marching routine and forging the bonds that will carry the 50 members through a series of fall competitions.

Chris Graham, the band director, sees the routine the way Davis does, only from ground level. “All Aboard” is the theme. “I think trains are really cool,” he said. “It’s a concept people can latch onto.”

He sees the scenic elements that will frame the band: the cutout of a train station, the silhouette of an engine, the Art Deco look of the color guard who will be passengers on a train created by the marching band.

He commissioned Ryan Bybee of Charlotte to write the music and create the basic routine. The 6 minute, 30 second routine has three parts: “Locomotive,” “Take the B Train” and “Last Stop.” There are snippets of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” that pop up in the score. The jazzy second movement has echoes of Duke Ellington’s signature tune.

“It’s fast-paced; a lot of difficult moves,” said Mary Filchak, a junior horn player who is the band captain. “It’s more complicated, which makes it more awesome.”

In competition, the band will be judged on a range of technical criteria. A good routine can rack up points for “general effect.” That means the movement is logical and appropriate to the music. “It’s just got to work,” Graham said.

The Waccamaw band is the same size as last year’s group, but small overall, Filchak said. That means there’s more opportunity for the judges to spot any individual mistakes. It’s Filchak’s job to make sure there aren’t any.

While Davis keeps watch as she directs from the podium, Filchak’s peripheral vision watches from the field.

The link between movement and music goes beyond the general effect. “We memorize the music by muscle memory,” Davis said.

That’s also the way the musicians memorize the marching routine, Graham said.

“Talk about higher-level thinking skills. They’re multi-multi-multi-tasking,” he said. “This is an extremely smart group.”

And it’s a close group, Davis said. “It’s really close,” she added. “This is the closest I’ve felt to a bunch of students.”

The public will get its first look at the show at halftime during Waccamaw’s first home football game Aug. 17. The first competition is at the end of September, and the routine and the music are likely to change week by week, Davis said.

The refinements will continue all the way through the Lower State and State competitions. The Warriors have reached the State Class AA event for the last six years, said Nancy Randall, the middle school band director and co-director of the marching band.

And Davis will see it all as she conducts from the platform. “It’s a really new show from what we’re used to,” she said. “There’s a lot of general effect.”

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