East Hartford High School marching band is one big family

By Corey AmEnde - Staff Writer
East Hartford - posted Thu., Aug. 29, 2013
The drum majors for this year's EHHS marching band: (l-r) Adam Willette, Will Reid, Shawn Murdzek and Ceili Peng.  Photo by Corey AmEnde.
The drum majors for this year's EHHS marching band: (l-r) Adam Willette, Will Reid, Shawn Murdzek and Ceili Peng. Photo by Corey AmEnde.

While the majority of students at East Hartford High School walked through the doors on Wednesday, Aug. 28, for the first time this school year, there were a number of students who had already spent nearly a week at the high school early this month – and they did it by choice, as members of the marching band.

“Band, for me, is the best part of high school,” said senior drum major Adam Willette.

The band is a combination of students from East Hartford High School and the neighboring school, the Connecticut International Baccalaureate Academy. The group is under the watchful wand of directors Candy Guastamachio and Julie Spagnesi. There is also a leadership team comprised of 16 students that includes team leaders, color guard captains, a percussion sergeant and four drum majors – Willette and fellow senior Ceili Peng and juniors Will Reid and Shawn Murdzek.

Guastamachio and student leaders characterize the band as a group with a strong sense of community. “The overriding thing that comes from the kids when they graduate is that this is home, this is family, and we get the same kind of comments from parents,” said Guastamachio.

“Going to CIBA, I really didn’t know anyone from East Hartford, so coming into the band I did feel accepted by the people from East Hartford. They’re good at integrating things with other schools, even though they’re coming from different backgrounds into this new larger pool,” said Reid.  “It’s not like you’re singled out or separated because you’re from somewhere else.  When you’re in band, you’re in band.”

And just as in a family structure where everyone is equally important, the same holds true for the marching band. “It’s a place where there is no bench,” added Spagnesi. “Everybody is out there all the time, and there’s no second string to band. Everybody’s contribution is important all of the time.”

The East Hartford High School marching band – roughly 150 students strong – spent four days at the high school for its pre-season during the week of Aug. 12 rehearsing music, doing marching drills and getting their half-time show ready for the upcoming season. 
“We do a lot of teaching freshmen any new commands that they need to learn,” explained Peng.  “We run drill for the year and go through the music and try to make it fun because it’s a very long time to be walking around outside.”

The band will debut its show on Friday night, Sept. 13, at half-time of the football team’s season and home opener against Bloomfield.  The concept for this year’s show is Green Day, and the marching band will perform some of the punk group's greatest hits, including “American Idiot,” “Extraordinary Girl,” “Holiday,” “Wake Me Up When September Ends” and “Homecoming.”

The band performed songs from "West Side Story" last season, and Spagnesi said they were very focused on the music. “I feel like this year we want the music to still be wonderful, but we’re kind of focusing on upping the visual game a little bit more and getting the marching more precise,” added Spagnesi. 

Working on precision marching will be a key for the band this season, especially considering its size. “I think this is the biggest band that we’ve had for a while, so I’m just really looking forward to what we’re going to be able to do because of that,” said Willette. 

“There aren’t a lot of things not to look forward to,” added Reid. “The way things have been going, especially making pre-season mandatory, we’ve made a lot of forward progress that will continue into the year. I feel like we’re going to be bigger and better than we have been in past years because of the extra time that everyone has put in.”

In addition to the performing at half-time of the home football games, the band will travel to the Big E in Massachusetts for Connecticut Day on Wednesday, Sept. 18, and will head to Rocky Hill on Saturday, Sept. 28, for a competition with other high school bands.

“I’m looking forward to the competition,” said Murdzek. “I feel like we’re really going to pull out some good scores.”

Guastamachio said the competitions are video taped, audio taped and critiqued by judges and oftentimes East Hartford is the largest band in the competition. “We’re not set up to do the whole competition circuit, but we usually get the kids to one, occasionally two,” explained Guastamachio. “It’s a good experience for them to see what else is out there.”

Another great experience for the students, particularly the drum majors, is the leadership experience that they gain while in marching band. “They’re involved in all the organizational aspects,” said Guastamachio. “They’re copying music, distributing paperwork, having a voice in paperwork, but they’re also doing instructing of marching techniques.” The drum majors also run some rehearsals and teach marching drills. 

“A lot of the questions and issues that the kids have, they’ll go to the leaders before us [the directors], and the leaders have the confidence to give a response, fix the problem, and they’ll check with us to make sure they made the right decision, but they will take care of it,” added Guastamachio. 

This sense of responsibility is one that the student leaders appreciate and recognize. “The band teachers always compliment us that they could literally drop us off at a performance and it would just be us and the leadership team and it would go as planned, so I that’s a huge compliment,” said Willette.

“They’re just wonderful human beings,” said Spagnesi. “They’re good kids and they’re here because they want to be.  It’s just really satisfying.”

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