BANDING TOGETHER: East, North marching bands join forces

In a month, Columbus East and North football teams will compete in their annual face-off on Aug. 27. However, the night won’t just showcase an age-old rivalry. It’ll also feature a new alliance — one of almost 190 students— during the halftime performance.

The two high schools’ marching bands have combined to form the Sound and Spirit of Columbus. The East vs. North football game will mark the combined band’s first official performance together, said Bryan Muñoz, director of bands and orchestra at Columbus North. Band camp began on July 19 and runs through next week as well.

Muñoz said organizers were given the go-ahead to combine the two marching bands in early 2021. The idea had been discussed several years ago but didn’t pan out at the time. Then, when the pandemic hit, band officials had a chance to discuss the future of BCSC music programs, so the idea was brought up again.

“Several schools across the country have begun to do this idea of combining their marching bands to pool resources, pool students to create a more intricate show, to create higher-level production,” he said. “Marching bands don’t have reserves on the sidelines. We have everybody perform. And so the more kids we have performing, typically the more detailed shows we can create.”

Tim Brookshire, assistant band director at Columbus East, said that he’s hoping the partnership will improve the ability to compete with bands from greater Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and Evansville.

“Both Columbus bands have been finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with those big bands because of their resources and budgets,” he said. “By pooling our human and monetary resources, it gives our students more of an opportunity to keep up.”

Muñoz said that in addition to the benefits of sharing resources and students, they also pitched the two bands’ combination as a way to help with recruitment for BCSC’s music programs.

“Everything else about our programs are still separate — concert bands, jazz bands, all of those things are still separate,” he said. “But we could go to the middle schools and recruit together, which we did this last year.”

Working with boosters

Prior to making the change official, band directors worked with their booster programs for several months to provide a smooth transition, keep parents informed and help preserve both bands’ traditions.

They also spoke with the students to determine their interest in the endeavor.

“The kids were really excited,” Muñoz said. “The kids are competitive by nature, and they see this as a competitive advantage for them in the fall season. So they were really excited. Plus, they have several friends that they went to elementary or middle school with … The idea that they get to work together in some capacity again is exciting for them.”

East senior and drum major Lauren Ulrich echoed this sentiment, as did North senior and drum major Zane Glick. The two students went to middle school together before going to different high schools.

Ulrich said that it’s also great to meet new people and expand the family that she’s found in band.

The Sound and Spirit has four directors; Muñoz, North assistant director Keith Burton, East director David Rodgers and Brookshire.

The men are “peers and equals” in terms of their contributions and leadership of the marching band, Muñoz said. In terms of student leadership, there are two drum majors from each school, as well as a good split of representatives in other leadership positions.

Drum majors include Ulrich, Glick, East senior Kade Kikendall and North junior Riley England. Ulrich and Glick said that the collaboration has been going well.

Bigger challenges

Of course, combining two bands does present certain challenges. For instance, the logistics of feeding close to 190 students, as well as staff and volunteers, twice daily at band camp is no small feat for parents, Muñoz said.

He added that combined band program also has a considerable amount of equipment to move — enough that they have to use a semi trailer and three 28-ft trailers.

In short, he said, “Everything’s bigger. We have close to 190 students marching this year — so neither program has put on the field 190 students before.”

Still, Muñoz recalled that even before they joined forces, the two bands always had “huge sense of camaraderie” and would come together before each East vs. North game for a sort of reunion, allowing the students to catch up with kids that they might have known from sixth grade or middle school band.

In some aspects, the big game won’t be that different, he said. The band members will still have that camaraderie, and fans will still get both school songs and the national anthem, just played by a bigger group.

“And they’ll get a unifying halftime show,” he added. “So I think that experience won’t be all that much different — in fact, I think, ultimately, fans are going to enjoy what the band can do as a combined group of 190 students, even more than what we could’ve done separately.”

Glick said that it was a “dream come true” have the bands combine.

“I’d always felt like we would be stronger as a collective, because in the band world, more numbers usually means more skill and more marching prowess and musical prowess,” he said.

Ulrich also noted that it’s “impressive” to hear the full sound coming from the larger band.

“In the band world, a lot of the band kids will envy the larger programs, like at Carmel or Avon because they have an army of 300 kids and 20 tubas, or something like that,” Glick said. “But the talent level among our kids matches that. Some people can play as loud as four other kids, right? And it’s really impressive to see how all of that has come together to create something that’s actually unlike any musical spectacle that I’ve ever been a part of.”

Muñoz expressed excitement about the upcoming season and noted that the group is pretty far ahead of where they would normally be this time of year. As of July 12, two movements of the show were already written, in terms of drills, props were almost completely done and show music was “completely done and in the students’ hands.”

These students, he said, are “extremely talented” and “extremely focused.”

“The kids have this unbelievable work ethic that I’ve never seen before,” he said. “And I don’t know if it’s the combination of the excitement that we’re together now and nerves — that they want to look really good next to their peers — but they’ve been working extremely hard and extremely disciplined, which has really given us the opportunity to buckle down and try to see how far we can get through this band camp and see how far ahead of the game we can go.”

Parents have also been a big help, he added. Their support has included preparing meals, chaperoning buses, loading equipment and building props.

All in all, Muñoz said that the band is looking forward to competing this year.

“We know there’s buzz about us in the marching band community, and we’re hoping to live up to that hype,” he said.

“It really sort of molds two worlds together, because they’re two different programs,” Glick said. “And combining that, it’s creating a new band. … It’s a new legacy that we’re starting here.”

Ulrich added, “It’s not East and it’s not North. We’ve totally lost track now, almost, half a week into band camp, of the East kids and the North kids. We’re all just the marching band kids. And I think it’s cool, because we got the best parts of North and the best parts of East combined to make this new, amazing group of kids.”