By Sue Botos
While it has not been an overly warm summer, it seemed like Mother Nature turned up the temperature just in time for the Rocky River High School marching Pirates to get into the spirit of their festival show.
“It’s hot!” commented freshman cymbal player Kyle Scotten, heading for water with bandmates during a break. This was the last week of band camp before school started, and the heat was on for the 178-member squad, which includes pom and flag corps.
“Today was appropriate for the theme of the festival show this year. “It’s ‘The Heat is On,’” commented band director Kirk Taylor, entering his 23rd season on the podium, which often consists of a platform atop a hydraulic lift. The bird’s-eye perch gives a better view as band members work out the symmetrical designs of the show on the middle school field, aided by assistant director Ryan Hudac, who patrols the field.
The “hot” playlist runs the gamut from classical to rock. “We are doing Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird,’ ‘Great Balls of Fire,’ ‘Fever,’ ‘Blister in the Sun,’ ‘Burning Down the House,’ and ‘Hot, Hot, Hot,’” Taylor said.
The musicians, flags and poms also learn a second show, this season titled “All About Me.” Taylor noted that the tunes for this performance will include “Make Me Smile,” “Talk to Me,” “Dance With Me,” “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.”
“Practice makes permanent!” urged Taylor over a sound system atop his perch as band squad leaders measured distance between marchers with a pole and the musicians honed their steps to a cadence set by percussionists.
Although marching bands are most often thought of as football halftime entertainment, there is more on the Pirates’ playlist. In addition to playing both home and away games, the band participates in parades and band festivals. Taylor said the squad will be appearing at festivals in North Royalton on Sept. 21, and in Parma on Oct. 12.
All of this music and marching calls for a rigorous practice schedule, which includes sessions before and after school during the year, and summer practices, including the two-week intensive band camp. A typical day here features morning indoor sectionals and full-band practice of music, then marching and maneuvering after lunch from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.
With dozens of other activities, both in school and out, competing for students’ time, does Taylor feel it’s difficult to find those with the dedication? “It is a bit of a challenge to get the time commitment needed. The students try to honor their commitments … but there are so many things pulling at them that they can’t always make it work,” he said, noting that this particular day’s practice was a bit crazy, as much ground had to be covered before band members had to leave for sports practices.
However, the students feel the work is worth it, as band membership is up by 20 over last year. They also will be sporting new instruments, and new maroon and white uniforms, which will replace those used for about 20 seasons.
“The best thing is that all the cool people are in band. This is the most fun thing you can do in high school,” stated senior John Ballas, a four-year veteran.
Students added that they enjoyed the traditions of the group, like the popular after-game parties hosted by band parents, and pregame goody bags to get everyone psyched up for the show.
In keeping with the food-oriented activities, the Pirates are also good hosts to visiting bands. A third-quarter spread, also prepared by parents, is set up at home games beneath a tent on the visitor side, at which both bands chow down and socialize.
Looking back at his years on the field, Taylor commented that the best part of his job is “working with the students and the satisfaction of knowing that I am helping to broaden and develop their minds in a way that only the arts can.”