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Event pits the best of high schools’ spirited sound

Family and friends wrapped themselves in blankets and gathered in the stands at Joe Albi Stadium, cupping hot cocoa and yelling encouragements as students performed in a competition that draws thousands of performers, volunteers and spectators each fall.

Thirteen high school bands went head to head Saturday on the gridiron in the 2012 Sounds of Thunder Pacific Northwest Marching Band Championships.

“This becomes your family,” said Lori Wilson, who considers herself the Central Valley High School band mom. “It’s amazing.”

Judges rate the marching band and color guard groups on visual performance, music performance and general effect. The color guard and band join their artistry to tell a cohesive story visually and musically as students move about the field.

“It’s one thing to read the music off the page, and it’s another to bring that to life and have the audience members to feel that energy,” said Rob Lewis, one of two band directors for Mead High School. “It’s really rewarding to see the students engage themselves and perform at high levels and to watch them be rewarded for those performances.”

While the Sounds of Thunder competition is smaller than many other competitions in Western Washington and Oregon, Wilson said parents and students enjoy the sense of community it offers.

“It’s nice to be local,” Wilson said. “We do so much traveling. Plus, they’re competing with local schools.”

The competition is a culmination of a lot of time, effort and sacrifices on the part of students.

Last year, Central Valley students put in 53,000 individual hours rehearsing, performing, and traveling to competitions around the Northwest. Parents put in another 8,000 hours of volunteer time. Organizers estimate it will be even more this year.

“It’s a lot of work,” said Central Valley senior Emily Gallafent, 17, who plays the marimba. “But it’s worth it.”

The time and dedication put into competing lends itself to strong bonds and lasting friendships. Salina Johnson, 17, Central Valley’s drum major, said she enjoys being down on the field competing, but she likes the camaraderie even more.

“I like that it’s a family event,” she said. “We all come together to create something that can make people happy.”

Most of the students started practicing in August, months before the competition, and get lessons in time management and discipline as they juggle school and hours of practice and competitions.

“This is a learning experience for them,” show organizer Rich Harvey said. “Not only in terms of being better musicians, but also better teammates.”