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Banding Together

While many students spend their summers by the pool, sleeping in and vacationing, for some high school marching band members it feels like they never left school.

Michele Chiappetta
Marc Rains
July 28, 2018

If your image of how high school students spend the summer involves kids sitting by the pool, sleeping in and vacationing, then one thing is clear: you’ve never talked to a kid who’s in the band. High school marching bands and their cousins — the concert band, drum line, and color guard — demand a lot of time, energy, and discipline from those who participate in them.

The Pride of Owasso marching band is among the top band programs in Oklahoma, maybe the nation. They’ve earned 108 OSSAA State Sweepstakes Awards since 1980 and received First Divisions in the OSSAA marching competition for the past 41 consecutive years. They’ve performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the whole program has five contest-level bands.

In other words, there are a lot of band kids in Owasso. And they’re working hard to rock their performances all year long.

According to Chris Harris, the director of the Pride of Owasso, he, his staff and his band students spend hours every day training. And it’s not just musical rehearsals. They also study dance and rhythm movements, practice yoga and calisthenics, and run to stay in shape. There’s a lot of sweat, tears, and determination that goes into their training. And that training doesn’t stop during the summer hours.

So, what motivates the students who participate in such a demanding, physical, time-consuming activity? Passion — and that passion starts at an early age.

Harris’ daughter, Claire, who is a percussionist, became interested in band as a result of her father’s involvement. “I decided to try it in sixth grade, and I’ve done it ever since,” she says.

Chris Harris, the director of the Pride of Owasso, his staff and his band students spend hours every day training. And it’s not just musical rehearsals. (Photo: Marc Rains)
Chris Harris, the director of the Pride of Owasso, his staff and his band students spend hours every day training. And it’s not just musical rehearsals. (Photo: Marc Rains)

Zach Harris, who is not related to Chris or Claire, is also a percussionist and became involved through his parents, who were in band in their high school years. Emily Smithson was inspired to learn music after a demonstration at her school; she started on clarinet and now plays oboe and saxophone. Danielle Henry, a flautist, was inspired to pick up the flute through knowing a neighbor who played the instrument.

The most common challenge these students face is time management, Finding time for both school and band is tough, says Emily. But she doesn’t want to give up playing. “Everyone I know is in band. All my friends are,” she says. “There are hard parts, learning how to balance it all, but it’s worth it.”

“It’s taught me how important being on time is,” says Danielle. “I’m always 10 minutes early to everything, even if it’s not band.”

“It’s good training,” says Chris.

The work is especially hard during marching band’s busiest season, the fall — which is when football games are played and competitions take place. “I feel like during the season, you are just super exhausted,” says Claire. “There are times you don’t want to be there. But when it ends, you don’t know what to do with yourself. Like you’re sitting at home, doing nothing.”

Of course, band kids are never “doing nothing.” Their schedule simply becomes more or less busy, depending on the season. Though summer isn’t as intensely busy as football and competition season, band practices still take place.

“Most groups start at the end of July or beginning of August with their full band,” says Chris of the rigorous training schedule. For color guard and percussionists, regular weekly sessions start even earlier in the summer. “There’s a lot of practice that goes into spinning flags and drum line,” he says.

Claire Harris (Photo: Marc Rains)
Claire Harris (Photo: Marc Rains)

“It’s very demanding, so we spend a lot of time in the summer getting ready for the fall,” Chris says. “Just like athletics, core strength is a big part of what we do. Dancing and moving is very physically demanding. We approach the summer a lot like the athletic programs do. We started a thing called the Gauntlet, which is running stadium lines and steps. If you were to come up, you might think we were one of the athletic teams while we’re doing this thing, because the whole stadium is moving with kids up and down the steps and on the stadium floor.”

The marching band students study for multiple performances, including a pregame show that is a salute to the armed forces, and halftime shows that are new, modern presentations that are also used for competitions.

The competitions, too, are demanding, often involving travel to different cities on weekends. Competitions typically take place in professional football stadiums or other large arenas, giving the students a chance to perform in huge spaces.

Once the marching band and competition season ends sometime in November, the band kids continue with other musical activities. “We divide into five concert bands,” says Chris. “We do concerts and things like that for the rest of the year, all the while preparing for next fall.”

And it’s not just the band kids who prepare all year for the fall season. Chris says he and his staff start planning in January for the following fall.

The results of all the hard work is, in Owasso’s case, a lot of competitive success. “We have had the most all-staters in the state of Oklahoma for 37 years in a row. And that’s something we’re very proud of,” says Chris. Many of their band students also receive music scholarships.

As seniors, Claire, Zach, Emily and Danielle are all thinking through their next steps after graduation. They may continue to be in bands at the college level. But whatever happens, they expect all the hard work, discipline, and respect for time they learned in marching band will be lessons they can take into their future.

To support the Owasso Pride, people can sign up for the Run to the Beat 5K at Owasso High School (Aug. 25), participate in the Pride of Owasso Golf Tournament (Sept. 8), attend football games (starting Aug. 24), or keep an eye out for concert performances year-round.