Heat is on as Quaker Valley band preps for football season opener
Under a gray sky, members of the Quaker Valley High School Marching Band count their steps in unison as they rehearse on a grass field at Slippery Rock University.
They are working on the choreography for their Latin-themed halftime show and repeatedly go over sections of the program.
They don't complain, despite the high humidity.
Every now and then, band director Cory Neville yells out “Whoa oh,” to which the students respond “I love band.”
By last Thursday afternoon, the students already had endured three-plus days — around 10 hours each — of grueling practices but didn't seem any worse for wear. They know that in order to be a member of the marching band, they must be completely dedicated.
It's not like a sport where if a student misses a practice, he or she gets benched the next game, Neville said. It's imperative that everyone commits to attending the weeklong camp at the Butler County university.
“They'll rehearse more this week than the rest of the entire school year,” Neville said.
“Every single kid is essential, which is good. It's good to have that responsibility.”
Since arriving at Quaker Valley four years ago, Neville has noticed a steady increase in marching band membership.
This year, there are 56 students in the marching band — an increase of eight students over last year, despite losing 13 seniors. Of those 56 students, more than 20 are freshmen.
“(It's) not a huge difference in numbers, but it makes a significant difference depending on what instruments you gain,” Neville said.
“We have nine alto saxophones this year, compared to last year's two, and we have nine trumpets compared to last year's four.
“To replace 13 graduates and add another eight on top of that is big for us,” he said. “If we can keep the trend of bringing in at least 20 to 30 new members every year, the next few years look very promising.”
Neville attributes the increase in interest to other band members.
“Everyone's been working really hard to get the word out there and recruit,” he said. “They share their stories and are making a case (for others to join).”
K.J. Devlin, a senior on the drum line, said he thinks the increase also is due to having a director who has been there for several years now.
“Mr. Neville is the longest-running director we've had,” he said. “And this is the biggest band we've had in like six years.”
Devlin, who has been playing since fifth grade, said he has been around marching band since his sister, Alyssa, who graduated in 2006, was in color guard. He knew when he reached high school, he, too, would like to join the band.
“I've always loved music,” he said. “It's always been a huge part of my life.”
Each year, before choosing the music for the show, Neville said they start with a general pool of ideas, then do some research to see if music is available for those ideas. He said the music has to be on par with the ability-level of the band but also must fulfill musical goals.
“Picking music is the most important job of any music teacher,” Neville said.
This year's program includes “Children of Sanchez” by Chuck Mangione, “Evil Ways” and “Yaleo” by Santana, and “Mambo” by Leonard Berstein from the musical “West Side Story.” He said that song is faux-Latin “but a really good song.”
“It's a big give and take,” Neville said of choosing music that will both challenge the students as well as teach them something.
“That's why I avoid Top 40,” he said. They already know the songs because they hear them all of the time.
“It's not really learning it but replicating,” he said.
Kristina Serafini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1405or firstname.lastname@example.org.