Marching band practice did not start until after the sun had set behind the bleachers at DeKalb High School. Some band members wore T-shirts, even as the temperature dipped into the 50s.
Steve Lundin, director of the band, knows that the band members are used to long hours and sometimes uncomfortable weather.
“The biggest thing is the sheer number of hours that go into it,” Lundin said. “Groups put in a tremendous number of hours.”
Lundin estimates that his marching band members put in 100 hours of practice and drills before school even starts in the fall.
In addition to the hundreds of hours that marching band members dedicate to practice and performance, they sacrifice time with their friends and family, they miss family vacations, they carry sometimes heavy equipment for long periods of time, and they perform in almost every kind of weather during football games, when many fans would rather visit the concession stand or socialize than watch them play.
“Unless there is a tornado or a thunderstorm you are going to be out there doing your best,” said Jessica Stanbery, a senior at Sycamore High School who has been in the school’s marching band for four years. She plays the snare drum, which she said weighs about 30 pounds.
From practices and parades during the hottest days of summer to the coldest and rainiest Friday nights in the fall, band members brave the elements to practice and perform. They play at a number of community events and in several parades each year, always with the goal of giving the crowd the best performance possible.
“It’s a part of feeling they are a part of covering something bigger than they could ever do on their own,” Lundin said.
The sense of accomplishment is only part of what drives the student musicians.
“It’s also a lot of fun,” said Kaileigh Obrycki, a senior at Genoa-Kingston High School. “Every band is like their own family.”
This is Kaileigh’s fourth year with the marching band, and her third year as a drum major. Most high school marching bands have two or three drum majors who help the band directors during practice, direct the band during performances and lead the band during parades.
“There is a lot more behind-the-scenes work than anyone can probably imagine,” Kaileigh said, noting that drum majors also share responsibility for the band’s uniforms, sheet music and sound equipment. Drum majors also help the band director plan and execute drills. They train longer in the summer than the rest of the band members, who go to band camp for a week during August, and then have practices once per week.
”They don’t even get a week off during summer,” Lundin said.
Members of the color guard dedicate more hours to practice than any of their fellow band members.
“We actually started practicing at the end of May last year,” said Sarah Trostle, a senior at DeKalb and captain of the school’s color guard. “We basically had the show done by mid-summer.”
Once the color guard’s movements have been finalized, the other band members can begin to practice their complex movements around the field. The precise movements can only be perfected through practice, practice and more practice.
“You start with simple stuff, and as the season goes on you add more and more,” Jessica said. “A lot of people think it’s easy but it’s really complicated. There is a lot of technique that goes into the routine that requires a lot of practice.”
During a performance, every band member is required to execute their own unique movements. They perform without notes or sheet music, and every member’s performance is uniquely important.
“We don’t have subs,” Lundin said, contrasting the band members’ role to that of football players. “There is no second string in marching band.”
Marching band directors and football coaches will often coordinate at the beginning of the season on how players will enter the field. The two student groups seldom have other interaction.
Although marching bands and football teams share the field on Friday nights, the teams and coaches are sometimes too focused on the game to listen to the music. But they are always aware of the spirit the music creates in the stadium, especially with the fans.
“It really creates an atmosphere that you just can’t get from playing music through a sound system,” said Todd Hallaron, head football coach at DeKalb High School. “There are a couple of times during the game that the music really affects us.”
Hallaron said the music that affects the players and fans the most is played before the game even starts.
“When you hear the national anthem, you know it’s Friday night lights and it’s time to play.”