As we kick off the Bands of America Regional Championships this weekend in Kettering and Monroeville, the 2013 Bands of America Grand National Championships will be here in less than two months! This Throwback Thursday, I thought I would share my first Grand Nationals experience, as a member of the 2005 Centerville Jazz Band:
When my family moved to Centerville, Ohio my sophomore year of high school, the marching band was the first and only orientation to Centerville High School I needed. Coming from a small, rural school band that marched high-step and played pop tunes, the Bands of America world I stepped into was new and fascinating. For the first time, staff members were paying attention to every detail of my posture, movement and sound quality. At nearly every rehearsal, some mention of “The Dome” was included as we perfected our production, “BLUESprint.” “You’ll never forget the air lock at the Dome,” said most of my new friends. The hundreds of hours of rehearsal would supposedly be worth it once I reached “The Dome.”
As the evening rehearsals grew darker and colder, three months and an incredible first season with the Centerville Jazz Band was nearly finished. “Rock the Dome” posters for each section covered the hallway leading to the band room, filled with cheering band parents to send us off to Indianapolis. I knew something would be special about Grand Nationals after I learned that we would be attending a marching band competition instead of playing for the playoff football game that same weekend.
We boarded the buses Thursday morning, and I could barely stand the three months of anticipation. From the highway, I can remember first spotting the white roof of the RCA Dome. The indoor warm-up area was unlike anything I had experienced before. Hearing the other ensembles warming up across the pipe and drapes was hectic and distracting, and my nerves got the best of me. As we all gathered into the airlock, completely silent, our director gave us the last motivating words before our performance. “Hearts on fire, eyes cold as steel,” said Andrew Markworth. This phrase was handed down from Centerville Jazz Band to Centerville Jazz Band, creating a common experience for all alumni to relate. As the airlock opened and our wide eyes looked toward the fans, the expansive field and the incredible dome, everything clicked. We were able to hold everything together while soaking in one of the most life-changing experiences to-date.
We returned to Ohio for classes on Friday, but departed for Indianapolis after classes for the Prelims Award Ceremony. The RCA Dome was filled to the brim with students, parents and fans late Friday night to watch the 2004 Grand National Champion Lawrence Central and the exhibition Stephenson H.S. Marching Bands perform. The energy in the crowd was unlike anything I had ever witnessed. After prelims awards were presented and over 30 bands were announced for Semi-Finals, we headed to Pan Am Plaza for “Celebrate America!” The Riverside Community College and Stephenson High School bands provided entertainment as we awaited the performance order for the next day. For the finale of the evening, a spectacular fireworks display left us with “oohs” and “aahs” as we walked back to the buses. I was in complete disbelief that a marching band contest could warrant a fireworks display, let alone thousands of fans and a professional football stadium.
Saturday morning was a whirlwind of well wishes as we prepared for our Semi-Finals performance. The surroundings were more familiar this time, but the phrase was the same: “Hearts on fire, eyes cold as steel.” We were extremely fortunate to perform our show once more on Saturday night. There were quite a few tears in that last trip through airlock, but “Hearts on fire, eyes cold as steel” remained. After the performance, I watched our peers from across the country perform with such precision and passion I had not witnessed before, including Carmel’s unbelievable visual feats in “Suspended Symbols” and L.D. Bell’s incredible musical performance of “Lux Arumque.”
The Grand Finale celebration was a perfect capstone to the music-filled weekend. I can still remember distinctly my principal placing my finalist medallion during the ceremony. The intense emotions felt during that ceremony are still unmatched today, especially those final words from Chuck Henson, “Go for it – Break Ranks!” I met fellow high school musicians from across the country, sharing in the common Bands of America experience. Each of us embodied the positively-life changing experiences that made Bands of America events so special. After high school, I decided to pay forward my incredible experiences by volunteering at a Bands of America Regional. Six years later, I’m still involved and still indebted to Music for All’s mission, vision and core values. As a volunteer, intern, event staff and employee, I have constantly sought to continue the positively life-changing experiences I was afforded in high school.
Do you have a memory from your first Grand National Championships or other BOA event? Share it with us in the comments!
Seth Williams is the Development Coordinator at Music for All. Seth is no stranger to Music for All and Bands of America – first as a participant and as an intern in Development and Participant Relations. He is a graduate of Butler University and previously worked in the Broadway theatre industry in New York. A proud alumnus of “The Centerville Jazz Band,” Seth is likely the biggest band nerd he knows.