GREENSBURG – Standing in formation on a hot, paved parking lot painted with the lines and measurements of a stadium performance area, 58 students from Greensburg, North, and South Decatur High Schools listen to an amplified Jacob Crossley, Director of Bands at North Decatur High School, as those involved practiced Thursday.
“Look down at your feet. Make sure your ankles line up with the ankles of the person next to you. Now, on my mark, move into your next position in 8 counts,” Crosley says through his head mic’, “…now MOVE!”
As he counts, 58 sweating marchers and a seven-member color guard move like an oiled machine, half-stepping their way into a different formation.
An ambitious group of talented musicians and educators are preparing the Decatur County Marching Band (DCMB) for competition in year three of their short but much acclaimed history.
According to www.bandday.com, the first marching bands appeared in the 1800s. They originated from groups of traveling musicians who would perform at festivals centuries ago. As time went on they would become the foundation for military bands.
Marching bands in the USA are known mostly for performing at sports events, especially at football games. The oldest recorded marching band is the Notre Dame Marching Band, which can be traced back to 1845.
One of the most spectacular things about marching bands is the formation. When they started up, the band might form the initials of the teams that were to play that day. In modern times, the huge crowds at events like the Super Bowl call for something special including video games, film scenes and complex patterns. They make their performance even more special by stepping out in a formation that makes up recognizable shapes when viewed from above.
The usual “field marching band” might be a high school marching band that plays at home football games on Friday evenings and marches in the occasional parade. “Track” marching bands compete against one another in a a phenomenon that is becoming more popular and gaining more attention across the nation.
Last year, 49 Indiana schools competed for a single $3,000 purse at the Indiana State Fair Band Day competition. Marching bands from larger schools like Noblesville and Anderson, which are sometimes comprised of up to 125 members, compete against smaller bands like the DCMB.
In spite of the difference in their potential talent pools, DCMB has a way of winning.
Their first year, after overcoming many obstacles common to beginning marching bands, DCMB made it into the state finals and placed 13th in the state, beating out the lower two-thirds of the almost 50 bands competing.
“That was relatively unheard of,” Crosley commented. “Very few groups can say they have that badge of honor their first year out.”
And then the band, making it again to the state finales, scored a ninth place finish while winning Best Percussion and Best Visual honors.
“They really don’t understand how big marching bands can be (as a world-wide phenomenon),” Crosley explained. “And they’ve had a lot of success. So they get out there and hear full stadium crowds cheering for them and they think, ‘This is just awesome.’ They love it. They remember that feeling forever. That’s why I love it.”
The instrumental soloists on the field are sometimes amplified through sound systems on carts. Large, colorful backdrops are designed and incorporated into the routines, and the color guards perform in costumes specifically designed for that particular show. Everything – marching steps, formations, costumes, musical selections – are based around a central theme the directors have chosen.
This year’s theme?
“Paradise Lost,” Crosley said. “It’s a combination of Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno, the story of a man’s allegorical journey through the nine rings of Hell.”
Crosley is being helped by volunteer educators who share his passion.
Chris Crowder, a University of Florida in Tampa student and former student of Crosley’s at Center Grove, is a co-designer of this years’ show.
“He runs the visual side of things” Crosley said.
Crowder designs the “look” of the show. He will create back drops and coordinate color guard colors and costumes to match the theme of this year’s show.
Noah Leininger, the former band director at NDHS and and now Butler graduate student said, “I wouldn’t be anywhere else. This is what it’s about.”
Leininger, incidentally, is studying this fall at Butler University with Dr. Michael Colburn, the most previous conductor of the President’s own Marine Band.
Also involved as a consultant is Audrey Cueller, a teacher at East Central who was in color guard all through her high school years, and then at the University of Evansville as she studied for her Bachelor’s degree.
“I’ve done this even since my freshman year and I wouldn’t do anything else with my summer.” Cueller said.
To see the DCMB in action, look for them in the Greensburg 4th of July Parade. Their first competition of the year will be in the Centerville Marching Contest on July 14, 15 and 16.