Arrow-right Camera
News >  Spokane

Marching bands bring on the drama

Competition full of costumes, musical variety

Roman nymphs danced among columns Saturday as a gladiator and two goddesses served as drum majors, directing the music and movement of the A.C. Davis High School band from Yakima.

Later, the Richland High School marching band performed selections from “Les Miserables.” Other bands played pieces from Cirque du Soleil, Christian-inspired music, contemporary rock hits and original compositions.

All told, 17 high school bands participated in the 2008 Pacific Northwest Marching Band Championships on Saturday at Joe Albi Stadium.

“A lot of them have a theme to their show. It’s kind of like watching opera,” said Rich Harvey, director of the Spokane Thunder Drum & Bugle Corps, which hosted the event with the Greater Spokane Drum Corps Association.

Local bands competed, as did bands from the Tri-Cities, Western Washington, Oregon and Montana. They were split into three categories: “A” for those with 90 or fewer performers; “AA” for those with 91 to 130 performers; and “Open” for bands with more than 130.

Elaborate props, flags, costumes, hairstyles and makeup were abundant. For color guard members, coats were largely absent.

Not so in the stands, where the audience bundled up in parkas, hats and blankets.

“I enjoy watching them. I like to support them,” said Valerie Schmitt, who came to Spokane from Richland to watch the show. Both of her children, now high school graduates, performed in marching band.

Schmitt said band participation takes dedication – and stamina.

“My daughter was setting out cymbals before a performance and tripped over a piece of equipment and broke her thumb, but she still finished the performance,” Schmitt said. “These kids, they are athletic.”

Bo Mendez and Amanda Hansen, drum majors for the Pasco High School marching band, watched other bands perform while they waited to take the field.

Mendez said the band had been practicing since August. “It’s a lot of work,” he said.

At the Spokane competition, bands performed in the morning, and judges scored them based on marching, percussion, music performance, auxiliary performance and overall effect.

Tapes of the judges’ comments were given to the bands to review before the evening competition.

“It’s so complicated. I still don’t get it all,” Harvey said.

The event raises money for Spokane Thunder, which brings together marching band performers from across the nation each summer to practice and then compete in national events. This year Spokane Thunder placed seventh in the national championships even though it had just 51 members compared with 100 to 150 in its rival bands.

“We called ourselves the corps that could,” Harvey said.

Amy Cannata can be reached at (509) 459-5197 or