There is a distinct feel to a high school football game in the fall ‒ the anticipation before a battle; the cool crispness of the air; the warmth of hot chocolate mixed with corn dogs; the cheers from the crowds; the echoes of the voices over the loud speakers.
And, of course, the music from the marching band, playing the fight song from the stands after a touchdown or marching through a halftime show.
You can have a football game without a marching band, of course, but it won’t be the same.
“Me personally, for the entire experience, I definitely think the band’s important,” Dothan High School Band Director Adrian Broughton II said. “I think it’s a role that people sometimes take for granted. I’ve been to football games where they don’t have a band and it’s a different atmosphere.”
A lot of work goes into a high school marching band. Students typically begin practicing during the summer with different sections ‒ brass, woodwinds, percussion, etc. ‒ learning their parts of the music to be performed. Then, toward the end of the summer before the new school year begins, the entire band will come together for band camp.
Students sweat it out learning formations, standing at attention, fighting insects and ant hills, coping with the heat, and perfecting their ability to play a musical instrument and walk at the same time. This annual band camp may last a week, two weeks or up to a month depending on the school. Practices often last for hours.
“I don’t think a lot of people exactly understand how much work we put into this,” said Dothan High’s drum major Serin Baek, a 17-year-old senior. “It’s not just walking across the field. There’s a lot of technique put into it.”
Once the school year begins, the work continues with after-school practices, pep rallies, ballgames, parades and marching band competitions.
“It takes a lot of time to get this done – my time and the kids,” Broughton said. “I don’t think people realize the amount of commitment that goes into it and the amount of time and effort and energy that the kids put into this activity.”
Band students spend so much time together it’s just natural that close friendships develop and memories that could last a lifetime are created.
“Some of my friends, still ‒ the ones I have on Facebook or that I call and communicate and go hang out with ‒ are ones I was in high school band with,” said Larry Batchelor, who has been a teacher for 32 years and is now in his fifth year as band director at Northview High School in Dothan. “You’re with them so much and go through so much together, you just get some really close bonds in there that just seem to last a lifetime.”
Students agreed that the camaraderie developed in band is what makes the activity special.
“Band has a bond. Not most activities and groups have it,” said Emery Gaunt, a 16-year-old junior and drum major for Northview High’s band. “They say music is the universal language; well, it’s like we all play it together and it’s just such a neat experience.”
Football games are where a high school band can really shine and contribute to the spirit of a crowd.
“Definitely, we try to stay loud and happy,” said 17-year-old Jake Golden, a Northview senior and saxophone section leader. “My freshman year, we won two games, and every single game that we played we were so loud you would have thought we were winning by a ton. It never matters if we’re winning or losing. We’re always happy; we try to keep people happy, regardless of the score.”
Emery put it this way: “If the band wasn’t there, it would be awkwardly quiet.”
Dothan High School’s marching band has 125 students, while Northview High School’s has 101 members. Participation varies each year, but Batchelor said it’s difficult for high school band to compete with other extracurricular activities, advanced academic classes and dual-enrollment programs that conflict with band class and practices. Batchelor said he works with students so they can keep up with band and other activities, but scheduling becomes more challenging each year.
Both Northview and Dothan marching bands are performing medleys for their halftime shows this year, a trend among high school bands that began a few years ago. Instead of three to four entire songs, bands will play segments from eight to nine songs.
Like with any performance, there are things that can go wrong. Almost any band student can come up with at least one embarrassing moment on the field.
For Northview’s drum major, that moment came when Emery was still playing trumpet. It was last year during the first game of the season against Enterprise High School, which has a band known for giving stellar halftime performances. And Northview’s trumpets were positioned at the front of the band.
“We had the opener on the field,” Emery said. “We get out there and we had this really big dramatic drop where it’s like boom and everyone falls on the ground – it’s like the crowd-pleaser moment. And, first show … the boom goes down, I wasn’t in my spot. So I go down late, fall on the ground and then I awkwardly did like this Army crawl toward my spot ... It was like a whole 2 yards in front of Enterprise.”