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A major invitation

CCA marching band, color guard to travel to nation’s capitol in May
The Clear Creek Amana High School’s Clipper Marching Band performs at the season’s first home game Friday, Aug. 28. The band and color guard have been chosen to perform in the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C., in May. (photo by Chris Umscheid)

TIFFIN– Brighten the brass, shine up the sousaphones and unfurl the flags. The Clear Creek Amana (CCA) Clipper Marching Band is going to Washington.
The 106-piece marching band, under the direction of John Smith, along with the CCA Color Guard led by Crys Smith, were selected to perform in the National Memorial Day Parade to be held May 30, 2016, in Washington, D.C.
The annual event is sponsored by the World War II Veterans Committee to honor military men and women who have sacrificed for their country. Now broadcast live to military troops stationed throughout the world, the parade was in initiated in 2005 and has since grown in size and prestige to include more than 1,000 military personnel from every branch, celebrity guests, famous musical performers and elaborate floats, in addition to college and high school marching bands­ from each of the 50 states.
Not just any band gets to march down Constitution Avenue in the patriotic procession; applications must be approved through a selection process, and before that, a band has to be nominated.
Enter U.S. Congressman Dave Loebsack of Iowa. The Congressman was invited by parade organizers to nominate marching bands from his district. He nominated seven high schools, including CCA, which ended up being chosen as Iowa’s representative.
“I was pleased to nominate the students from Clear Creek Amana’s marching band to represent our state in the 2016 National Memorial Day Parade,” the Congressman wrote in an email communication to the Leader. “The students will join over 200 other groups and organization in honoring those who have worn the uniform and made the ultimate sacrifice defending our country. I commend them for their hard work and earning this invitation.”
“Hard work” barely captures all that goes into making more than 100 high school students move in synchronicity while lugging unwieldy instruments in stiff uniforms, playing complex arrangements with style and focusing on many aspects of performance precision.
Those essential attributes of a good marching band come through continuous practice, refinement and feedback, and it takes more than one season to build a band of that caliber.
When John first arrived at CCA eight years ago, the district did not have a competitive marching band program, so he started with the very basics.
“We just got stronger as the years went on,” said John. As freshman band members progress through high school, they become veterans and leaders, eventually bringing the entire group to a competitive level.
“The band has been very successful, placing in the top three at every competition we’ve done in the last few years,” John said. The Clippers Marching Band has also won specific awards for best drum line, best drum major and best color guard.
Leadership is key in marching bands, and high school band directors rely heavily on their drum majors. The 2016 Clipper Marching Band is led by seniors Mollie Sherman and Andrey Floryanovich and junior Jenna Weih. On the field, these drum majors are positioned in front of the band, leading performances, providing direction and keeping time. Off the field, they have additional responsibilities as liaisons between section leaders, band members and the director. When less experienced members have questions or need guidance, they look to their section leaders, who turn to the drum majors.
“They are in charge of the details so I can look at the big picture,” John said. “A big part of our success is our drum majors.”
It may be a tiered system of accountability, but every player is equal in importance.
“Our group is a little different from most other (extracurricular) groups in that we still have grades nine through 12, but it’s not divided like that,” said John. “We’re more like a big family.”
Weih agreed. “Since we are a family, we work well together. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so that helps us better ourselves.”
Sherman said there is also one commonality among individuals that brings the group together.
“It’s the love of music that connects us all and drives us to be better,” said Sherman. “If we see someone struggling, we all put in effort to help. It’s not like anyone is pointed out and ostracized.”
It also keeps everyone on a level playing field, so to speak.
“There are no benchwarmers in band,” added Floryanovich. “It’s not like there’s a freshman who comes in and goes to all the practices but never gets to play until he makes varsity. Nobody sits on our bench.”
And that gives every member a sense of responsibility to the group from day one, he added.
“It doesn’t matter if you are a freshman or a senior, everyone wants everyone else to succeed. Everyone has to give his best for it to look good and be powerful. That gives it a strong sense of community,” said Floryanovich.
As in every community, there is regular work to be done. Band parents and volunteers donate many hours of their time to assist at rehearsals, games and competitions. CCA’s drum line and color guard rehearse throughout the summer to come prepared to the first day of band camp, a week of daily practices held before the season officially kicks off at the school’s first home football game.
“If the drum line isn’t solid on the first day of camp, the rest of the band struggles,” said John. This year, he said, band camp had near-perfect attendance, and those who could not attend were gone because of family vacations. It’s a commitment that carries throughout the season, sometimes requiring 7 a.m. practices before school.
Today, most competitive high school bands perform weekly shows centered around a theme, using the same musical pieces week to week and adding to them as the season progresses. The Clipper Marching Band’s 2015 theme is based on NASA’s space exploration program, which happily coincided with the discovery earlier this year of a planet and star that closely resemble the Earth and our Sun in size and potential for habitability.
“We are covering the beginning of the U.S. space race, with underlying speeches from John F. Kennedy, Neil Armstrong and others,” John said. “The color guard helps tell the story. It’s a whole production.”
Crys Smith started the CCA Color Guard program, also eight years ago. This year, the guard has 15 members in grades nine through 12. They must be band members to even audition, and when they are not performing with flags, they are marching in uniform.
“Our performances are musically driven. We write the work based on the theme, and the flags tell the emotion of the story,” said Crys. For example, one ballad is dedicated to the memory of those on the ill-fated Challenger space shuttle. “The whole song depicts it through body language, emotion, flag work and choreography.”
Crys finds this year’s space theme particularly relevant.
“The kids are going to be able to connect because it’s their history,” she said. “The band as a whole is so good at relating the story line. There is such an emotional journey that everyone goes through when they listen to music. So it’s really cool how the color guard can capture some of that emotion.”
Though the season ends with the last home football game, both groups will continue to work on skills through the school year to make sure they stay sharp for their May performance in Washington, D.C. The school district even moved its traditional Memorial Day graduation ceremony so the band could participate in the national parade.
Crys said performing at the nation’s capitol is an opportunity for her to reinforce the color guard’s role in military history, from the days when bands accompanied soldiers into battle to keep spirits high, and flag carriers were there to represent their armies.
“It’s an experience that cannot be told,” she said. “Before the season gets going, our color guard learns about their history from early war times. Yes, today we are all about the game and competition, but there is a lot of learning that goes with it. We send the color guard in to tell the story. To have the girls do that in Washington is very moving. I can’t wait for them to experience that military passion, that personal connection.”
In addition to marching in the parade, the students will tour the national monuments, visit the Smithsonian National Museum and the Holocaust Museum, watch the President’s Marine Band perform, and four students will even be involved in a wreath laying ceremony at Arlington Cemetery.
“This trip provides students with a great opportunity to visit our nation’s capital and learn more about our history,” Congressman Loebsack wrote.
The goal is to take every student who wishes to go, but with a cost of $900 for the six-day trip, full participation will depend on the success of the band’s fundraising efforts.
“We have a very aggressive fundraising campaign throughout the year so the out-of-pocket expense for families is as low as possible,” said John. He and Crys, in their 24th and 19th respective years of experience, have taken high school groups to the capitol before, but many of the students have never been.
“There will be thousands of people lining the streets. To be halfway through the parade and suddenly see the Washington Monument on the right…that’s a pretty amazing experience,” said John.
For Floryanovich and Weih, who will graduate this year, it’s probably the best encore they could hope for after a long lineup of already-amazing experiences as Clipper Marching Band members.
“Really the band becomes close because we are all in this together” said Floryanovich. “We succeed together and fail together. As seniors, it will be our last performance, so it will be our big hurrah. Those memories are going to be what we leave with.”