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Scholastic musicians get their marching orders for band season

| Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 3:56 a.m.
Junior percussionists Megan Ball and Jason Sammartin will keep the beat for Clairton High School's band.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Junior percussionists Megan Ball and Jason Sammartin will keep the beat for Clairton High School's band.
Honeybears BreAnne Shaw, foreground, and  Gianaya Sloan get their Michael Jackson on at Clairton band practice.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Honeybears BreAnne Shaw, foreground, and Gianaya Sloan get their Michael Jackson on at Clairton band practice.
South Allegheny High School's drum line will dazzle audiences this year with a synchronized LED display during performances.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
South Allegheny High School's drum line will dazzle audiences this year with a synchronized LED display during performances.

The command goes out: “Band. Ready. Front.”

And a moment later the opening riff to the Jackson 5's “I Want You Back” is filling the air around Clairton High School.

It's marching band season once again and student musicians, color guards and majorettes are rocking, swinging and boogeying on football fields all over the country.

Go to a stadium near you in coming months and you may very well hear and see a marching band break out the classics, jazz tunes, rockers or Motown — or possibly some combination of all of the above.

Many compete on the Tournament of Bands, Bands of America, and Pennsylvania Interscholastic Marching Band Association show circuits, taking long bus rides to fields all over the region.

But football games serve as a primary venue. Clairton musicians have lots of experience playing in support of the Bears, who have played in the Class A state championship game five years in a row, winning the last four.

“They've gone to Hershey every year that I've been a Honeybear,” said senior Eliza Sopko, who is part of the band's dancing ensemble.

One of the smallest in the area, the band doesn't compete on any of the three circuits but the football team's winning record means musicians stay active right up to the holiday season.

This year, they'll keep football stands rocking with a show featuring the music of Michael Jackson.

Senior Alonzo Campbell holds down the low end of the riff to “Beat It” with his tenor sax, an instrument he started playing only last year. when he switched from quads.

“Last year I actually talked to (band instructor David Geckle) about playing Michael Jackson,” Campbell said. “The song I picked was ‘Beat It.'”

Seventh-graders Leonard Robinson and Brayden Robinson are members of the sax section, playing alto.

Geckle said it's young players such as they who help bring band numbers back up at the school. Last year, there were only 15 musicians and 12 Honeybears; this year there are 21 musicians and nine auxiliary members.

Junior Jason Sammartin is another who recently switched instruments. He's playing snare drum on the field but he learned to play music on piccolo. He still plays the woodwind during pregame ceremonies and in the stands. Jason said he's looking forward to playing “Thriller,” because “It's got a lot of rolls in it.”

What are the other high school bands rolling out this season? Below is a list of goings-on for the 2012-13 school year:


This is the first time in eight years that the band has not included a member of the school's football team, but two musicians will spend some of their time marching as part of the Honeybears.

The first game is the Bears' home opener on Aug. 30. Travels will include a trip to Yough High School band festival on Sept. 21, and all band members are hoping for another long football season ending in Hershey. The band is planning a trip to Disney World in 2015.

East Allegheny

The defending Class A PIMBA champions will salute their past with “And The Beat Goes On.” The show looks at the legacy of the band program at the school and will feature alumni members and an introduction from longtime band director Del Dowden.

The marching unit of 40 musicians and 20 color guard members will perform Gershwin's “Strike Up the Band” with a modern twist that delves into jazz, disco and even dub step. The school's alma mater and Tony Bennett's “How Do You Keep the Music Going” are part of the program.

Instructor Justin Roscoe said there are only three returning seniors.

“They have surprising power,” Roscoe said.

Drum majors are Miracle Brocco, Hanna Marcoz and Tiffany Sherman.

The school will host a Tournament of Bands festival on Sept. 14 and a PIMBA competition on Oct. 26. The first home football game is on Aug. 30. A spring band trip is in the planning stages but a destination has not been chosen yet.

Elizabeth Forward

Director Joseph Scheller was hired over the summer to replace Justin Turpin and said its been a hectic couple weeks getting ready for the season while wrapping up affairs at his former school, South Side Beaver in Beaver County.

“It's been a mad rush,” Scheller said. “The kids are great and the parent (booster) group in unbelievably supportive.”

“When I'm Gone” is the name of the show. The band will cover “Vienna” by the Fray and “Runaway Baby” by Bruno Mars.

The 49 musicians and 26 color guard members will pull out a few props for the show. Look for a nod to “Cups (When I'm Gone)” from “Pitch Perfect” and some flashy gold jackets. Also take a look at the band uniforms, which are expected to be replaced at the end of the season.

The first home game is Aug. 30 and there will be home show on Sept. 21. A big trip is planned for spring but a destination has not yet been chosen.

McKeesport Area

The band will perform “From Russia With Love,” a salute to the great Russian composers.

“New World Symphony” by Dvorak, “Russian Sailor's Dance” by Gliere and “The Great Gate of Kiev” by Mussorgsky are songs the unit of 65 musicians and 11 color guard members will perform.

Director Karen Cole said the idea behind the show was to do “something completely different” from last year, which was a tribute to New Orleans and earned the band a first-place Tournament of Bands award.

“The kids are totally getting this,” she said of the new show, which features color guard routines with special dark red flags in honor of Russia.

Drum majors Cheyenne Jackson and Taylor Fillippa will lead a unit that lost 22 seniors from last year.

The band's first home game is Sept. 7 at 1 p.m. and the home Tournament of Bands show is Oct. 12.


The new director is Timothy Daniels, a 2008 graduate of the school. He takes over from Robert Traugh, who moved on to Kiski Area.

“It's definitely interesting being back,” Daniels said. “These are big shoes to step into.”

The 88 musicians and 32 color guard members will perform “The Rise of the Knights,” a competition show that “tells the story of overcoming obstacles to become something more,” Daniels said. It features music by Frank Ticheli.

Their halftime football show will feature the fight song and music by Lady Gaga. The band's first home game is Aug. 30 and it's first competition is Sept. 7 at Kiski Area. Norwin's home show is Oct. 5 and there are plans to travel to travel to Towson, Md. for a competition on Oct. 26.

Serra Catholic

The theme is “What is Your Gift?”

For the band itself, the gift very well may be more musicians. Last year, director Elizabeth Hazlett had just 18 total members. For 2013-14, the ranks have grown to 17 musicians and seven color guard members.

“We almost doubled in musicians,” Hazlett said.

She said the show will examine gifts as they apply to music, percussion and sight. To do that, the band will play “I Got Rhythm,” “I've Got You Under My Skin,” and Copeland's “Appalachian Spring.”

Senior Patrick Crossen is drum major.

The marching unit will travel to four shows on the PIMBA circuit. The first home game is Sept. 13.

South Allegheny

Director Jessica Humenic pledges, “We have a lot of really cool things planned this year.”

She didn't want to give away all the surprises but said some involve super bright LED lights and the drumline.

The name of the show is “Illumination.” It includes selections by Bruno Mars and opens with “Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.” Key members of the 75-member band, which includes 13 color guard members, are Falco Muscante on alto sax and Stephen Shriane, who will switch from sax to electric guitar for one song.

The first home game is Sept. 6 and its home band festival is Sept. 7. The band is scheduled to perform in the Fort Ligonier Days parade on Oct. 12 and there are plans for a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida in late November for Magic Music Days.

Steel Valley

“Dancing through the Decades” will feature songs that span the last 40 years.

With numbers such as “Dancing in the Streets,” “Dance to the Music,” “Dancing Queen” and others, it should be a crowd pleaser.

Director Mike Sisley said junior Brad Campbell is back as the announcer. He'll do a radio style voice-over on songs performed by the 22 musicians and 17 color guard members.

Drum majors Joe Iano, Julia Lichtenfels, Larry Pham and band member Amanda Merling will perform as part of a woodwind quartet on “I Want to Dance with Somebody.”

There will be no home show but the band will travel to seven Tournament of Bands competitions, including one in Hershey. The first home game is Sept. 6. The band is looking to go to New York or Florida in the spring.

Thomas Jefferson

James Mirabella will direct “American Classics,” a show that includes the songs “Swinging Doodle Dandy” and “The Trooper Salute.” The total marching unit has about 120 members, including 24 auxiliary members.

The first home game is Sept. 6 and the home show is Oct. 5.

West Mifflin Area

The show is called “Masked” and includes selections from “The Mask,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “Spiderman.”

Director Jeff Kesser said the 150-member marching unit, which includes 95 musicians, will play “Captain America” during parades, in keeping with the theme.

“There is a lot of jazz in our show this year,” said Kesser, who last year had the band tackle music by the Beatles.

Key band members are drum majors Sarah Hejnosz, Hailey Mutch and Alexia Marzina; Starlet captains Maura Anderson and Meghan Wargo; and silk captains Gabby Emery and Sarah Nicholson.

The first home game is Sept. 6. On Sept. 7 at noon, the band will perform at West Mifflin Community Day at Century III Mall. The band is planning a trip to Walt Disney World in April.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1966, or

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