Standing atop a podium, Ashley Gillam slowly moved her hands, her feet still.
Then, the music quickened, and Gillam’s movements mirrored the pace. Smiling, she shuffled her feet and swayed her hips, jerking her hands side-to-side as the band lifted two fingers to the sky to signal peace.
The band director stood atop an even higher podium and yelled, “This is the moment of your show! Everybody has been waiting. Let them hear it.”
With the Florida Marching Band Coalition State Championships approaching Nov. 17, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, the Braden River High School Marching Band has been perfecting its show since July.
Last week as the 3A Pirates performed their show, titled “Joy,” at a grassy field in front of the school’s basketball courts, the 4A Lakewood Ranch Mustangs practiced their show, “Under the Midnight Sky,” during a mini camp.
Though the rival schools compete in different classes and won’t face each other at the state championships, they both hope to master intricate details in their shows in the days leading up to it.
The Braden River Marching Band, which started competing with its school’s inception in 2005, took second place overall at the Florida Marching Band Coalition Regional Competition Oct. 20 and aims to capture its first 3A state championship.
Last year, in its second 3A season, Braden River earned a fourth-place finish in the state.
Gillam, a Pirates senior drum major, leads “Joy,” a show that breaks down into three movements: love, peace and happiness.
“The first movement shows joy is like love,” Gillam said. “The love you have for people and things. The second shows peace through missionary work. The third represents the happiness we get from music.”
Throughout the show, the Color Guard use flags, rifles and one-legged jumps to convey emotion.
During the middle movement, which is based on a scene in the 1986 movie, “The Mission,” band members make peace signs with their fingers, and the Color Guard drops its flags and glides with their empty arms open.
The show’s final movement ends with an almost 40-second snippet of Beethoven’s hour-long “Ode to Joy.”
Leading this portion of the show, Gillam’s face stiffened. She used her hands to slap the air.
“The finale is about zest and zealousness,” Gillam said. “It is high-powered, high-intensity excitement that draws it all together.”
Band Capt. Zack Funk, a senior first-trumpet player, felt helpless four years ago, when Braden River struggled as a 2A band. Now he won’t limit expectations.
“This is a really progressive program that’s getting better and better,” Funk said. “When I first came here, we were decent for what we had. Our goal is now perfection. Winning state would be everything for us.”
On a blacktop parking lot full of circle and V-shaped chalk marks meant to direct the band’s movements, the Lakewood Ranch Marching Band tinkered with its equally joyful show, “Under the Midnight Sky.”
In an all-day mini camp full of starts and stops, first-year Mustangs Band Director Ron Lambert kept his band focused on the FMBC State Championships.
Lambert previously served as Lakewood Ranch assistant band director before leaving briefly and coming back.
For its show, the job of bringing light and energy to the band falls to the color guard.
Throughout the show, the color guard will alternately carry 10-foot and 6-foot flags and white rifles.
Lakewood Ranch was one of five bands in its class to make the finals last year.
Brooke Ellery, a senior Color Guard captain, describes a scene where seven judges, some roaming around the field and others sitting in the press box, grade each band from a strict rubric.
“Finals is huge and extremely nerve-wracking,” Ellery said. “Tropicana (Field) is a lot larger than a normal football field, so you have to look up higher. Everyone from everywhere is looking at you. But we’re ready this year, and making finals would be awesome for us.”
Back at the Lakewood Ranch blacktop, as his band tried to break through the whistling wind, Lambert stood atop his podium and gave final advice:
“You won’t get credit for blowing as loud as you can,” Lambert told the band. “It’s about quality.”
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].