When I heard the band warming up that Saturday morning, I knew it was going to be a good day.
West Valley had struggled in its previous competition. But this was a week later and a mountain range away. As band director Jim Loucks said that morning in the Everett gym where our group of students and chaperones spent the night, “Guys, this is a whole different band than the one that played in Yakima.”
Six days of hard work will do that. So will the knowledge that there’s no bigger game than the Puget Sound Festival of Bands. It is the equivalent of going to state for these young performers who cut short their summer every year to spend 12-hour days practicing the intricate steps and musicianship.
There was added urgency for West Valley. None of this year’s students had experienced the excitement of getting past preliminaries in Everett. For seniors like my trumpeter son, Kyle, this was a last opportunity to make finals and be recognized among the best of the best.
You’ve seen high school marching bands and color guards perform during home football games, if you’re not distracted by the conversations around you and don’t leave the grandstands for a halftime hotdog. But that’s like the dress rehearsal of a play. Sure, the students want to perform well for their hometown supporters. But they live for fall band competitions.
Twenty-six schools sent bands to the Oct. 26 competition in Everett. Saturday’s Valley Voice had a story that said Central Valley took the overall top prize and that University placed third in the AA division (groups of 61 to 80 students). Here’s some news: Cheney also had a great day, placing first in the AA division, while Mt. Spokane placed second overall, right behind CV.
I was happy to see local schools do so well, particularly CV, which dedicated its performance to Rebecca Harvey, a 2008 graduate who was a stellar musician and human being. Becca, who also played for the Spokane Thunder Drum and Bugle Corps and then for Washington State University, died in a car accident late last month.
West Valley also had a great day in Everett.
Even after seven years (Kyle’s older sister played percussion for WV), I still have to ask whether a performance was good. I have a tin ear and a weak eye for the details that the judges always catch.
Yet, as I watched the preliminary performance in Everett, I knew I was seeing West Valley at its best. Every note was crisp, every step was sure. The color guard was flawless.
Sure enough, after six days of sweat to exorcise the demons of the week before, West Valley placed first among the single-A groups (those with 60 or fewer students). I hugged the parent next to me when the announcement came that we’d made the finals.
Did I say that I’d seen West Valley at its best during its preliminary performance? I stand corrected. Because, freed of the burden of trying just to make it past preliminaries, West Valley rose to new heights, improving its score by 2 ½ points. If that doesn’t sound like much, consider this: There were 11 other schools in finals and none of them improved by more than half a point.
Come June, I’ll no longer be the parent of a high school musician. I’ll probably never visit another fall competition, cross the state in a packed school bus or sleep in a high school gym. I’ll walk away with gratitude for everything my son and daughter learned and experienced as musicians.
No memory will stand out more than Everett 2013, when Spokane was done proud.