Mars Area High School Marching Band musicians showed off a season's worth of practice for community members at their third annual Family and Friends Night Wednesday evening at the Mars Athletic Complex.
The band performed its 2021-22 halftime show, “Missing U,” which features the music of Pink Floyd, including the songs “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” “Wish You Were Here” and “Welcome to the Machine.”
“With COVID last year, we were very limited in what we were able to do,” said director Dave Soose. “There have definitely been ups and downs throughout the season, which is typical, but we were able to travel to our full capacity like we've done in the past. We were very pleased with how the season turned out.”
Soose described this season's field show as being inspired by stages of grief.
“It's definitely a hard topic to discuss with high school students, but we felt that it was a task that the students were up to,” Soose said. “We talked about that over the course of the season, especially with everything that we have here, that loss is unfortunately a part of our lives. We were able to discuss that with them and put on a pretty cool show.”
The band's competitive season ended Oct. 23. One football game remains in the season on Friday.
Over the course of the season, the Mars marching band traveled to a number of festivals, including the Moon Area Marching Band Festival on Oct. 9, Deer Lakes Area Marching Band Festival on Oct. 16 and out-of-state to the 2021 Bands of America Central Ohio Regional Championship on Sept. 25 at Fortress Obetz in Ohio.
The band won first place overall in both the Moon Area and Deer Lakes events, earned ninth place at the Ohio regional competition, and won the Class 2A Championship Title at the 2021 Pennsylvania Interscholastic Marching Band Association championships at Gateway High School on Oct. 23.
This year was the band's first time qualifying for the final round at a Bands of America regional competition since 2010.
“(There are some) growing pains in getting back into traveling and competing again,” Soose said. “We were going into a new year with two new groups of students who hadn't done this before, but overall the energy was positive from the students and the staff.”
Drum major and sophomore student Meghan Smith said that she enjoyed being able to compete this year.
“I would say this is probably the best season I have had,” she said. “It felt like it was back to normal, besides not being able to do full retreats and things like that. It's been great. I feel so lucky that I got to do this in my first year as drum major.”
Chance to play
After a year of COVID-19 conditions, juniors and seniors in particular were “excited to go out and perform,” Soose said.
“I was talking to a couple of the seniors this past Saturday. Two years ago, prior to COVID, our championships got canceled due to weather, so for a lot of our seniors this was only their second ever championship performance,” he said. “They were excited for the chance to go out and play in front of people.”
Drum major Evan Rojas is one of those senior students. “This year was a big deal because my first (championship) was my freshman year, so I haven't really had a complete season since my first year,” Rojas said. “I feel like morale has definitely been up this year because everybody is excited to get back into it and have practically a normal season.”
To Rojas, that enthusiasm helped power the band's musical improvement.
“What helped is we were doing so good,” he said. “Everybody was working so hard at it, and so it was just a cycle of 'we do good, so we have more morale, so we get better.'”
Amid changes in policies and concerns about the delta variant of COVID-19, Soose said the season went about as normally as could be expected.
“We were pretty fortunate that nothing had changed for us,” he said. “We had a couple of kids that were in and out due to some quarantines, but nothing necessarily canceled due to that. I feel like most schools that I have talked to have had fairly similar experiences, but every school district has been a little bit different.”
The event on Wednesday had a double purpose. Along with being a finish line for the season, it was also a chance for students to share their hard work with Mars Area School District families, teachers and administrators.
“This is an opportunity for more community members to come out and support the program, and see what the program is all about,” Soose said. “I'm just excited for them to be able to play for their community.”
“We always try to talk about not having any stress when they perform at competitions, but there is always some stress there,” he added. “This is a zero-stress performance, to celebrate what you've done all season and what you've worked so hard for.”
The event also serves to introduce younger children to the band at a time when directors are concerned about making sure the “pipeline” of new music students coming from the younger grades doesn't dry up. “Especially at the middle school level, we try to get them in as early as we can,” drum major Rojas said. “It's that whole growth because you're going to learn a lot over four years.”