The soundtrack of East Texas' beloved Friday Night Lights is delivered by marching bands that spend hundreds of hours practicing in the summer heat and cool autumn nights, memorizing music, learning drills and coordinating with auxiliary groups such as flags and twirlers.
The marching band tradition dates back to military bands that evolved over time, with "The March King" John Phillip Sousa helping to cement their place in the fabric of American life with his touring U.S. Marine Corps band and later his own band. The New World Encyclopedia says the first halftime show performed by a marching band was in 1907, when the University of Illinois Marching Illini took the field at the game against the University of Chicago.
In East Texas, the University Interscholastic League says there are 90 bands and some 6,750 students who help continue that tradition, with the military marching style tradition holding strong in this area. Military style marching bands are defined by sharp movements, students moving in columns and ranks as they turn using counter-marches and right or left flanks. Military marching band members take 30-inch steps, for six steps to every five yards. Show and corps-style bands, for instance, are more theatrical in their presentations, with more fluid movements and props.
"There are isolated pockets (in other places), but East Texas is the main area where there are (military marching bands)," said Steven Moore, director of bands for Lindale ISD and past president of the Texas Bandmasters Association. His high school marching band recently was selected to perform at the association's state convention.
"I think it's the tradition, the culture of these communities," he said of why the military style marches on in East Texas. "It's the history. It's our culture, and they're proud of what we do."
In East Texas, that history includes Longview High School's Big Green Marching Machine, which will be seeking its 70th consecutive First Division Award during UIL competition this year. Spring Hill High School's Blue Brigade marching band has competed at the state level UIL marching band contest four years in a row, among other honors. The White Oak High School Band performed in Washington, D.C.'s National Independence Day Parade in 2018.
Longview High School's band has a new director, Rhonda Daniel, as does Spring Hill's, Michael Moody.
"I believe that the military style marching puts the emphasis on playing, and also displays visually appealing drills that honor traditions from very long ago," Daniel said in an email. "I love the constant movement that you see in a well-designed military drill, and I believe the music we play while marching is some of the best music ever written. Marching at over 120 beats per minute without stopping, while playing the music we play, challenges our students and keeps them engaged and interested."
Moody said the military marching style is what he's taught his entire career.
"The precision it takes to execute all of the designs and maneuvers while playing your music by memory requires a lot of brain power," he said in an email. "Military is very challenging physically and mentally. I enjoy watching other styles and respect how they march, but I believe military is fundamentally more demanding."
At White Oak High School, longtime director Jason Steele said band amounts to a full-time job for students, between summer band practices, weekly rehearsals, sectionals, etc. Other area band directors reported similar time commitments for their students — a dedication which they say pays dividends.
"We spend many hours preparing and rehearsing our marching drill so the community and parents will see tremendous strides in our performances weekly," said Sherri Morgan, who heads up Hallsville's band program. "Our motto is Hallsville Band....a winning tradition.... This is the 70th anniversary of 'The Roarin' Band from Bobcat Land,' and our theme of our drill this year is 'Through the Years.' We are playing music that has been played by the band from the 50's to now. It brings back memories to all of the Bobcat Band Family from over the years."
In their words
Marching band is a way of life for students and directors who stage half-time performances each week. Here's what marching band means, in their own words:
Name: Hannah Greathouse, Longview High School senior; first chair tuba and section leader in the Lobo band
What I like about marching band: Band friends are forever! We develop friendships, make memories together, and have a great time providing entertainment to all of the fans at the football games. Working together, we learn problem solving, team work, commitment, respect, discipline, and many other skills that we can use in everyday life. The memories we make are amazing! Playing the fight song for the Lobos during the playoffs, especially in the final game, was probably the most memorable and gratifying experience in all of my years in band. I truly felt that, as they were making history, I was making history too — as part of the band cheering them on.
Most challenging part of marching band: The most challenging aspect of marching band is the time spent learning the new marches and new songs. A lot of the summertime is dedicated to practicing and getting ready for the upcoming season. As I proudly march across the field, adrenaline flowing through my body, and hear Lobo Nation screaming for us, I know I'm in the right spot. I can honestly say I'm proud to be part of the Big Green Marching Machine!
Name: Karina Ruiz, Pine Tree High School senior; clarinet section leader, drum major
Relevance of marching band: I believe that marching band is still important and relevant because students view it as a safe haven. It's built from a union of people that help you grow and discover your strengths and weaknesses without a sense of judgment. The foundation of a band is to always convey a sense of belonging, and when that is created, the entire band flourishes and begins to be the epitome of the values your band has instilled for itself.
What I like about marching band: I like marching band because it pushes me to be the absolute best version of myself. It pushes me to work harder not only in band, but academically as well. It has also helped me discover my sense of self, and who I want/need to be as a person. Band has had a way of steering my values and morals in such a positive way, and that is something I will always appreciate.
Most challenging part of marching band: One of the most challenging things about marching band is team dynamic. Working together as a unit is vital to the band's success. If the band as a whole is constantly in a state of disagreement (especially the leadership team), then the morale of the band will never be upheld.
Name: Blake Chamberland, Hallsville senior; drummer; loading crew
Relevance of marching band: Marching band is still important today to me because some people go to football games to watch the football team, but some people go and they enjoy watching the games, but they also enjoy watching the bands. Without the bands being at the football games, I think the football teams are not as pumped as they would be with the bands there. I think the band provides entertainment for, not just the crowd, but for the football teams, too, so they can get pumped and ready for the game, and during they game they can stay energetic.
What I like about marching band: I like interacting with all the other band kids and all the directors. I really like playing in the stands with all our pop tunes because you can get in the mood of excitement and jumping up and down in the stands and all of that. Just marching with the rest of the band — it brings me joy to see how we start at the beginning of the year to the finish of marching season. It's just amazing, and then concert season is just off the charts. I like both season. It's really cool.
Most challenging part of marching band: It's probably learning the music and the drill — because of the fact that it's hot and miserable when you're learning it and getting everybody to work together would probably be another thing.
Name: Carson Horn, Spring Hill trombone player
Relevance of marching band: Military marching band is important because we believe that it is original and traditional to marching bands.
What I like about marching band: I enjoy it because it's like one big family. Everyone is there for each other.
Name: Jordan Steele, White Oak high school senior, lead trumpet player
What I like about marching band: Band is a place where everyone is a team working towards a goal. It develops strong relationships and lifeline memories.
Most challenging part of marching band: Dealing with a loss or a missed opportunity to preform and have fun.
Name: Jason Steele, director of bands at White Oak ISD, 21 years of teaching, 12th year at White Oak; "This year is great for me in that my son is a senior in my program."
Marching band style: I have only ever known military style and enjoy it very much. I think it’s important to continue this style, but I also think it’s important that we grow with the changing times and update it without losing the integrity of the style.
Designing a marching drill: It takes me many hours and lots of sleepless nights to get it done. I buy two drill chart pads and start throwing ideas around until I get some I like, then I put them all together. I get a lot of inspiration from the many great programs in East Texas. There is a lot of great things going on in the band world here.
Hours band spends in preparation: Many. I’m not sure of the exact number, but I know it amounts to a full-time job if you add up summer band, rehearsals, sectionals, etc.
Relevance of marching band: I think it teaches many traits that other programs do not. Also band directors are invested in students all the way down to sixth grade and will know most of them until they graduate. That’s seven years of a kid's life you have the opportunity to speak in to. We have a great opportunity and a great responsibility to do what’s right for the students.
Name: Michael Moody, Spring Hill fine arts director, first year at Spring Hill but 22 years as a band director
Marching band style: Military marching style. Military style is the style I like mainly because this is the style I have taught my whole career. The precision it takes to execute all of the designs and maneuvers while playing your music by memory requires a lot of brain power. Military is very challenging physically and mentally. I enjoy watching other styles and respect how they march, but I believe military is fundamentally more demanding.
Designing a marching drill: Takes days and hours to design, one mistake on paper can set you back in rehearsal. You have to do it in sections. Marching drill has to be an even multiple to work. Example, 12 X 12 = 144, 8 X9 =72, etc........ there are a lot of factors to take in consideration such as music phrases, formation, difficulty of music, placement on field, etc.
Hours band spends in preparation: In the summer roughly around 45 hours; a regular week is around 15 hours, and a real busy week such as marching contests is closer to 25.
Why I love marching band season: Every band each year has different talents and abilities. I really enjoy watching how each group makes progress and matures every year.
Name: Sherri Morgan, Hallsville high School director of bands, 48th year at Hallsville
Marching band style: Military marching band; I love the strict military discipline and style, and it is important to learn to play difficult music (marches) during football season
Designing a marching drill: Marching drill inspirations come from knowing and focusing on the strengths of the abilities of the band: it takes many, many hours to chart and develop the drill and must be done and tweaked throughout the season. We always try to add something patriotic in our drills so that we can teach our students the value of patriotism and honor our country, our veterans and community!
Hours spent in preparation: We spend many hours preparing and rehearsing our marching drill so the community and parents will see tremendous strides in our performances weekly. Our motto is Hallsville Band....a winning tradition.... This is the 70th anniversary of "The Roarin' Band from Bobcat Land" and our theme of our drill this year is "Through the Years." We are playing music that has been played by the band from the 50's to now. It brings back memories to all of the Bobcat Band Family from over the years.
Relevance of marching band: Marching band is very relevant today because we are the heartbeat and pulse of Bobcat Land. We set the tone of our community and we support all events and competitions in our school district. WE ARE ALL BOBCATS and we exemplify the spirit of our school. This is the 150th anniversary of Hallsville, Texas, and we believe that the examples and traditions of the past make our school and community the great place it is today by honoring and remembering what those gone before us have done to make Hallsville the great place it is today. WE ARE HALLSVILLE! Together we are strong!
Name: Rhonda Daniel, Longview High School director of instrumental music
Marching band style: The Lobo Band marches in the traditional military style. I believe that the military style marching puts the emphasis on playing, and also displays visually appealing drills that honor traditions from very long ago. I love the constant movement that you see in a well-designed military drill, and I believe the music we play while marching is some of the best music ever written. Marching at over 120 beats per minute without stopping, while playing the music we play, challenges our students and keeps them engaged and interested.
Designing a marching drill: I've written some drills in one day, and there's been some that took me a week to write. I watch videos of bands from the past, like Longview. With YouTube and the (National Association of Military Marching Bands) website, you can find endless hours of videos to watch. The drills I like the most are what I consider to be "true" military drills that aren't modified to try to be something we aren't.
Hours spent in preparation: Three weeks before school begins, we take the band to Northwestern State University in Natchitoches for band camp. Our whole band staff, plus additional teachers from various schools/colleges travel there with us to work with the students in sectionals. We teach all of our marching fundamentals there, and get started on learning our music for the fall. For the two weeks prior to school starting, we practice about eight hours per week. We rehearse approximately two hours per day when the school year begins. Every Friday night, we will perform at the Lobo football games, and we have will also have UIL Marching Contest and the NAMMB marching contest later in the fall.
Relevance of marching band: Marching band will always be relevant, especially in Texas... and even more so in Longview. Traditions in this area of our state are rich, and I feel it is our job to keep those traditions alive. Marching band, done the right way, can amaze the audiences and challenge the students. It gives our students the opportunity to have experiences they will take with them forever and the whole process equips them for what lies ahead in life.