Some 85 students gathered behind Meadville Area Senior High School for a recent practice. Some had flags, others had instruments, but all were in formation, ready for direction from their director.
The MASH marching band was gearing up for the 28th annual Marching Band Fall Classic where 12 area high schools, including Meadville, will perform, starting at 5:15 p.m. Saturday at the Barco-Duratz Athletic Complex.
When asked what makes up an event like this, MASH band Director Armond Walter listed values of musicality, companionship and teamwork.
"Everyone’s role is important," Walter said. "We don’t have a second string, so if someone’s missing, it impacts our show, if not musically, visually. We see some girls practicing together now while they’re on their break. Having that drive to improve is what we’re trying to teach them."
Improvement was on the minds of some of the band's leaders. Alexcia Vosburgh, an 11th grade trumpet player, noted the achievements of the group, which spans seventh through 12th grades. Many of the students had just picked up their instrument for the first time at the beginning of the season.
"We have a very hard show this year, and to see everyone grow through it has been amazing," Vosburgh said. "The music was tough, and especially with a lot of seventh graders coming in this year. Just seeing them grow, it’s amazing how the show has come together."
Crawford County bands Cochranton, Maplewood, Saegertown and Titusville are among those slated to perform. The MASH band will close the show, playing jazz artist Chuck Mangione's Grammy-winning song "Children of Sanchez," among others.
The bands have spent the past few months perfecting their music and choreography, according to Meadville junior Adam Duffy, who is co-drum major and a trombonist.
"The best part is the opportunity to improve in music," Duffy said. "It’s such a different way of improving than academics. It includes studying music, but you have to be a part of a team.
"It takes more endurance than people might think; playing notes for long, extended time and moving at the same time. It takes a certain poise to do it."
The show will also be a judged competition between several of the bands through the Lakeshore Marching Band Association. The organization schedules and regulates band events in Pennsylvania and neighboring states and promotes participation in band.
MASH is considered in an "exhibition" division and will not compete for the awards at the end of the night. However, Saturday marks one of the last opportunities for the public to catch the MASH marching band in action this season.
"We’ll be at a few football games beyond that, but for them, it’s the final product," Walter said. "They remember where we started and how we grew and how far we’ve come to get there. It’s that moment that brings a smile to my face. We did it. They’re proud of themselves."
Walter also discussed the practical lessons students take away from being a part of the band. Separate from the music, he emphasized the value of punctuality and preparation.
For instance, he said there are 18 trumpet players who must work together and with other sections to help the whole group, even if they're not all best friends.
"Doing your part, helping out a co-worker who may not be as strong to help better the group — that’s the one thing that we’re pushing here," Walter said. "The skills they learn here are going to help them in the real world."
Braden Green, senior co-drum major and a trumpet player, summed up the collaborative element of the Fall Classic.
"I like seeing everybody coming together for one purpose, and that’s to put on an amazing show for everybody to watch," he said.
Tyler Dague can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.