When West Valley High School’s band arrives in Florida to compete in the Festival of States, a couple of things will set them apart.
They will have traveled the furthest, and they’ll be the smallest band.
“We’re going in as the dark horse,” admits director Jim Loucks, whose young band program is trying national competition for the first time.
But something else makes this band stand out — an all-female bass drum line.
Loucks calls these young ladies vivacious. Their T-shirts call them bodacious. They call themselves a tradition.
“He (Loucks) always brags about us,” junior Sherise Roderick tells a reporter.
“That would be why we’re sitting here,” points out junior Rose Morris, in rapid-fire reply.
Call it a sisterhood of inside jokes, lucky charms and shared stress. Senior Karisa Rickard, nicknamed Charmy, supplies her fellow bass drummers with talismans. They’re currently each carrying a tiny plastic rat and a glow-in-the-dark spider. The girls all have nicknames; even their drums have nicknames.
Freshman Courtney Smith often stays out of the verbal fray, but the other four, Roderick, Morris, Rickard and junior Julie Jones seem to talk on top of, over, under and at the same time as each other.
Actually, their talk is as intricately rhythmed as their drum beats. The five try to think like one musician, not like five.
“We want to do our best,” Morris says. “To get every note right,” echoes Jones.
Playing bass drum takes strength.
“They are the heartbeat of the band,” says part-time percussion instructor Dennis Larsen.
True though that may be, never mind the nicey-nice talk. These drums weigh up to 30 pounds. When the band is on a heavy practice schedule, the girls are in constant pain, with aching shoulder and back muscles.
“You carry (a drum) like you’re pregnant,” says senior Karisa Rickard. It’s an apt description. They lean back against the weight, looking like they’re about to enroll in Lamaze classes. (They’re not.) Elastic back-support belts help, but not enough.
During a break at practice one evening this week, Rickard sets her drum on the floor and lies down draped over it like a wet noodle. Morris pops a backbend to ease her aches.
She’s the informal leader of the group. Morris mothers and musters and dares the others to get it right. When the rest of the percussion line takes a break, Morris calls a huddle to untangle one more rough spot in Swingin’ Chariot, one of the two parade songs.
The competition, April 2-4, includes concert band, jazz band and parade sections. Less than two weeks before departing on a trip that’s been planned for two years, band members are still learning their parade music.
“Oh, that’s normal,” Jones says. “That’s why we’re so stressed,” says Morris.
It’s not as though the band members haven’t been busy. Sleep seems to go out the window for these kids, losing out to practice, homework, jobs, sports practice and more band practice. Fund-raising $1,000 per band member was no picnic. And they went through the time-consuming process of trying out 20 different concert band pieces, in order to select the two just-right pieces for the concert band competition.
Loucks says the last-minute work will result in the group “peaking” at just the right moment. Larsen says he expects the band will play its absolute best-ever performances in Florida. “Fear and pride are powerful motivators,” he adds. One band parent, Doug Jones, says he’s watched Loucks work miracles in the six years he’s been at West Valley. “All I can say is, wow!”
The band members expect to have the time of their lives in Florida.
Jones has never been on an airplane before, never been east of Montana.
“I know I’ll never get to Florida if it wasn’t for this,” says Rickard.
West Valley will compete against 16 other bands in St. Petersburg, Florida. They’re traveling the furthest, by far. The band traveling the next longest distance hails from Alliance, Ohio, says Malcolm King, executive director of the Festival of States. Despite its name, at least half the bands in the festival are local.
In size, the other bands will range from 120 to 280 members. West Valley has 95 members, and this week Loucks still wasn’t saying exactly how many students were actually going on the trip.
“I don’t know. It’s been crazy. I’m pulling my hair out” he says.
Any other all-girl bass drum lines expected at the festival? No.
“That’s pretty unusual. Years ago, we had an all-female band that was from Louisiana,” King says. “But that was back in the ‘70s.”
West Valley’s vivacious, bodacious all-girl bass drum line can hold their heads high.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 photos
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