Killingly High School marching band opens season

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Killingly - posted Mon., Sep. 23, 2013
KHS band members are ready to play at a moment's notice. Photos by D. Coffey.
KHS band members are ready to play at a moment's notice. Photos by D. Coffey.

With an hour left before their season kick-off, members of the Killingly High School marching band got some last-minute advice from band director Jeff Ethier. They’d just come off the practice field and gathered around him. “Don’t bunch up,” he told them. “You should stay in a line, not like the parting of the Red Sea.”

He spoke to each of his sections in turn - the woodwinds, brass, drum line and pit. He warned the brass players to go easy in the stands in the first half. “Don’t blow your chops,” he said. “In the second half, unleash the hounds. In the fourth quarter, go berserk, within reason.”  Then he gathered them into a tight circle. “Have fun,” he said. They gave themselves a cheer and went off to change into their uniforms and eat a quick meal. “Be back here in 40 minutes,” he said.

Opening night at KHS was special for several reasons. The football team started its playoff run in the ECC Medium division. It was Youth Football Night, and teams involved in the program were introduced as players and coaches walked into the stadium. And Superintendent Kevin Farr, members of the Board of Education, and members of the Town Council were on hand for a scoreboard dedication.

For band, members it was the kickoff to their competitive season, and they had been practicing long and hard to shine in their first performance. The 60-member band had been practicing a compilation of four songs for the 2013 season: themes from "Batman," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "Jaws" and "Superman" movies. Ethier likes theme-based arrangements that kids recognize and identify with. And he looks for music that is going to be effective sounding with his group. 

This year’s band has several young players. Some students from eighth grade have joined the group. Those young players have fit in well with the more well-seasoned members of the band. Drum major Taylor Randolph said their performances have been promising. “They are working hard. Each person wants to be here. They’re putting in the effort every single day,” said Randolph.

They have spent weeks practicing. An intensive week of band camp, followed by twice weekly practices and home game performances will get them ready for competitions. In the meantime they practice their music, marching drills and cheers from the stands. Band members need to know the music. They need to be able to follow the directions of the drum majors. They need to know exactly where they need to be on the field while they play. And they have to do it in unison, coordinating music and movement with the color guard.

Their performance in the stands is more fluid, but no less important to the fans. Flip folders hold chasers, short musical phrases that they use according to what is happening on the field. A Killingly touchdown calls for a “Gladiator” piece. A fumble brings something lighter. At the end of the first quarter they play “The Hey Song.” And with every kick or punt, Hannah Higgins stands up with her trombone and does a slow glissando.

“We keep the crowd going,” she said. We keep it exciting. It’s more fun for us and it's tradition.”

Ethier and assistant band director Kevin Plouffe keep close tabs on what’s happening on the field. Certain plays call for specific pieces. If the cheerleaders begin a routine, Ethier will hold the band back. The band’s fluid performance matches the football team’s performance. And when the gridiron players need moral support, they provide that as well.

Six minutes before halftime, they filed out of the stands and marched to a standing area. Their performance began soon after the teams left the field. Sections marched to their spots. Randolph and assistant drum major Malle Barclay took their positions. When they gave the command to start, color guard members in silver uniforms, black capes and batman masks rose from kneeling positions. They began moving in step to the music, twirling golden flags. The drum line, brass and woodwind sections started moving in military fashion.

In less than five minutes, the performance was complete. Weeks are distilled down into minutes. The band members will keep practicing the music and the drill steps all season long, honing their skills and timing.

Scott White, co-president of the boosters club, watched from the stands. His daughter Jennifer plays the flute. “They had a big week last week,” he said. They performed on opening day at the Big E in Springfield, one of only two Connecticut high school bands to march in the Mardi Gras parade. He said the band was a confidence booster for the students.

Kim Wainacht, whose son plays euphonium, said the collaboration leads to tight knit friendships as well as musical skills. That was evident from watching the band members in the stands. They were easy with one another. And when Ethier waved a hand or gave a command, they snapped to. They lifted their instruments and played.

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