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Optional BHS Marching Band Makes for Happier Student Musicians

Bellingham High School’s marching band’s hard work was validated with an invitation to play at Fenway Park on May 21, 2022. Up until this year, marching band was a requirement for those in concert band, but now it’s a separate activity. Photos used courtesy of Bellingham High School music department.

By Judith Dorato O’Gara
They were invited to play at Fenway Park this past May, with a roster of about 80-90 students, “a wonderful experience for everybody and validation for their hard work,” says their director, music teacher Marie Forte. Even then, however, some students weren’t participating in Bellingham High School’s marching band by choice. It was simply a required part of the curriculum of those who had signed up for concert band.
That has changed this school year. 

 Marching band students learn posture, marching technique and formations, all while     memorizing and playing musical pieces.

“Before, everyone who was in our band program was part of the marching band by default,” says Bellingham High School Music Teacher Forte, “Now, we have a co-curricular marching band, an after-school band that is supplemental, and our concert band during the (school) day is purely an academic band that has their concert during the year,” says Forte.
This works out for those students who have very hectic schedules. “A lot of our students are 3-sport athletes,” says Forte. Plus, “For those who really enjoy marching band, we can get more involved in marching technique,” says Forte. “Instead of a shallow breadth of learning, (there’s ) a deeper understanding. It’s more of a team and less of a class, more of a social engagement,” says Forte, who works with Tim McDonald in leading marching band. 
Although the numbers of student musicians marching on the football field has dropped due to the change, about 47 kids are currently involved when color guard is included. The color guard is open to students in grades 8 through 12 and has two color guard coaches. 
“We have student leaders,” says Forte, “Student drum majors conduct the band during the show, and we obviously have leaders in the band.”
Senior Hannah Silva, who plays euphonium in marching band, believes the change has brought out those musicians “who want to put in effort. A handful of those people (required to do it before) didn’t want to do marching band. A lot of those kids would quit to avoid marching band, and they would come back when it was over.”
Silva thinks students who didn’t want to participate in marching band worried about being teased by other students and perhaps “don’t want to be watched,” but personally, she enjoys the “positivity” of the football games. 
“I really like being in the bleachers and playing stand tunes. I sit in the back row, because low brass and low reeds typically sit in the back, so I have all my friends right in front of me. I also like football. It’s fun to watch and have all your friends around you to talk and joke with, and at the same time as all that, you get to play music. Everyone is cheering for the cheerleaders, the marching band and of course, the football players. It’s just a fun place.” 
“It’s welcoming to students,” says Forte. “I think more than anything students, after the pandemic, are looking for engaging activities and want to be in social situations.”
This season, the marching band, that began with three weeks of rehearsal in August, has been working on “Hits from Across the Pond,” including favorites such as the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” Elton John’s “Your Song,” and “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” by The Police. The color guard started their season even earlier, in July. 
Hannah says she likes the pieces the band is working on now. “We’ve been doing pretty good compared to last year,” she says. 
Forte explains that some students, like sophomore Colton Provost, have stepped forward to play new instruments in positions that need to be filled on the field. “We’re so proud of the kids that have stepped forward,” she says.
Provost is the new tuba player who played saxophone his freshman year. He describes marching band and concert band as a “little family. You create a good connection with everyone.” Removing the requirement for marching band, he says, “is a good thing. In high school, things can get really hectic with schedules. I think it’s a good thing to separate out people who really want to be there. If you have a bunch of people who don’t want to be there, morale is going to be low. Yes, you’ll have less people, but all you need is 15 people who really want to be there who are going to perform better than a bunch of people who don’t want to be there. Morale and effort goes a long way, more than people think it does.”
Colton recommends marching band to students who are in concert band, though.
“It is physically demanding – you need to have a good set of lungs and put in effort, but if you’re looking to create good relationships with people, and if you’re really looking to expand your playability and skills, you have to march in time and keep the technique while playing in time and memorizing the music, it’s very good. Marching band is going to teach you good breathing and posture. I still have two years, and I’m looking forward to seeing how far I can go in marching band.”
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