Marching band starts contest season with 2nd
by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · October 11, 2013

West Branch High School’s marching band opened the 2013 competition season Saturday bowing to royalty, hoping for a crown of their own in competitions.

In its opening contest Saturday at the Little Hawk Marching Invitational, the band took second place in Class 2A, behind West Liberty and ahead of third-place Highland.

Marching Band Director Staci Speer said the 44-member troupe is focusing on a “royal family of music,” and using a local choreographer in hopes that she can help keep the “subjects” in line.

With senior Jathan Kron serving as drum major, the marching band plans to compete at three contests this season, including state and the head-to-head Wilton contest.

Speer said the songs were chosen to play to the band’s strengths: low brass and drumline.

It’s opening song is “Smooth Criminal,” by Michael Jackson, the “King of Pop”; second is “Respect,” by Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul”; third is “We Will Rock You,” by Queen; and the closer is “Crazy Train,” by Ozzy Osbourne, who released an album, “Prince of Darkness.”

Speer said she stole the “royalty” idea from her days at Milton High School, but changed the songs.

“I found stuff to show off these sections,” she said. “They are low-brass and percussion-heavy.”

Leah Ledtje, middle school band instructor, drew up the choreography charts and frequently visits marching band practice to make sure everyone is in step.

“That’s awesome,” Speer said, because before the band has used a choreographer out of Davenport who could not visit as often. “She knows our kids (from middle school) and their strengths and weaknesses, too.”

The marching band performs at halftime at football games as well as competitions. Speer prefers playing for fans.

“Football games are like dress rehearsal,” she said. “But they are far more important than competition. People get to see where their tax dollars are going.”

Emmy Shawver, a senior captain of the color guard, said both halftime shows and competitions are fun, but she prefers playing to football fans.

“They respond to what we do,” she said. “No matter what, they cheer for you.”

Senior Tyler Haub, who leads the drum line, agreed.

“I like the fans the best,” he said. “You get a better reaction from them when they cheer. It means a lot.”

Competitions require more focus, but it is still a good experience, she said.

“You have to get through it,” Shawver said. “Even if you mess up, you’ve got to keep going.”

Not everyone in band gets to perform at halftime, though. Senior Justin Roth, the low-brass section leader, is also one of the captains of the football team. In all, there are 10 musicians who also play football, and five who also perform with the cheerleaders.

Roth, Shawver and Haub all said competitions get pretty tense, but all of that falls away once the music gets going.

“It’s pretty relaxed until you start,” Roth said. “Then we have to get focused, do what we’ve been practicing, as perfect as we can.”

Shawver said the atmosphere at competitions is “comfortable” until the band lines up to take the field, then tension takes hold “until we get into our routine.”

The competition at Wilton is West Branch’s favorite, they said, because it centers around Class 1A and 2A schools, meaning the Bears are competing against other schools about the same size.

“We do well at that one,” Roth said. “There’s a good chance to place high, so it’s always fun.”

At state, the band gets a “rating,” but at Wilton, they get ranked.

“It puts more ‘oomph’ in our step,” Haub said. “At home (football games) they cheer. But there, it’s do-or-die time.”

Melissa Lyon, who used to march with the Dubuque Colts, coaches the color guard.

“She has tons of experience,” Speer said.

And show choir director Chris Reed gets on the field to oversee details like “horn angles” — making sure instruments are pointed out, not down — keeping each musician facing the stands and making sure everyone is staying in step.

“He provides a lot of individual attention,” Speer said, “while I lead the large group.”

The students say the best part of the year is band camp, where they practice twice a day and learn to bond as a group.

“We find out what type of season we’re going to have,” Roth said.

Shawver said she likes the “freshman wake-up call,” where older stay up all night at friends’ homes, then surprise the new band members with an early morning visit.

“It’s a great transition into high school,” she said.

Haub said it is important to make sure the entire marching band performs as one conhesive group.

“(Marching band) is a lot more tedious than it might look,” he said. “(Making a mistake) is like missing one puzzle piece from a puzzle. It just doesn’t feel right.”


West Branch High School's marching band performs at two more competitions:

• Wilton Marching Band Festival, Saturday, Oct. 12

• IHSMA State Marching Band Festival, Saturday, Oct. 19.

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