The Mt. Spokane High School Marching Band is in mid-season form. And what a season it has been.
Earlier this month, the Wildcats traveled to Yakima and finished third out of 17 groups. Then they put their gear back on the bus and didn’t get home until 2 a.m. – an inconvenience they’re happy to endure after what happened last year.
That’s when the music died, or at least went into hibernation, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic – much like gamers, who were reduced to checking in at home.
“It was a pain in the ass,” said Sy Hovik, director of the marching band.
But the group is back.
At Spokane County schools, musicians from the band, orchestra and choir are preparing to show off their stuff with fall concerts on the schedule.
A year after COVID upset their practices, the Wildcat group was training on a perfect October afternoon. Football and soccer teams were doing their jobs nearby, but the marching band commanded a stage framed by the mountains behind them.
“Our kids are thrilled to be on the pitch,” Hovik said as his 137 players took their seats to rehearse a western-style show for an upcoming football game.
A few miles away, Brandon Campbell and the Mead group were perfecting a Japanese-themed performance called “Samurai.”
It was the same show Campbell was set to throw last year.
âIt was a bit of a challenge because it was written for a different group so we had to ask some kids to step up,â Campbell said.
And that’s okay, said Eli Ordaz, senior at Mead.
âI appreciate it a lot more, because a lot of my friends are in the group and there are so many people that I got to know,â Ordaz said.
âWe always tell the kids it’s not about the trophies, it’s what you get out of the experience,â Hovik said. âIt’s also about the friendships you make.
Most of those friendships lasted, but the pandemic didn’t make the group easy.
âThe past year has been interesting,â said Tyler Garrett, senior captain at Mead. Recalling projects online and âstanding still and playing random songs,â Garrett said it was hard to improve.
âIt really made an impact on people,â Garrett said.
Abigail Golan, senior drum major at Mount Spokane, said she was “devastated” when the group was sidelined by COVID.
âHonestly the band is so tough and in terms of time it’s like such a huge commitment, but it’s so rewarding – one of the best experiences you could have in high school.â
The bands have the best of all possible worlds. Playing outside means they can literally breathe freely, without a mask.
Few enjoyed the moment as much as Drum Major Kaley Anderson.
A clarinet player since fifth grade, Anderson said joining the band had “completely changed my lifeâ¦ I really found my place here.”
It’s a big commitment, but that’s the bottom line, Anderson said.
âEveryone needs to be fully invested in the series because there are no star players,â said Anderson.
âI tell everyone they’re the starting quarterback,â Hovik said before stepping onto a scaffolding and leading a rehearsal.
While Hovik watched from above, the band put on a show called “Outlaw”, inspired by Aron Copland, “The Good, the Bad and The Ugly” and something modern.
âYou can’t do a western show without Bon Jovi,â he said.
The challenge this year is to bring newcomers up to speed.
In football terms, this is a young team: out of 137 members of the marching band, 89 are freshmen and sophomores who have never done this before.
âIt’s a steep learning curve, but I’m definitely proud of it,â Hovik said.
The numbers are down a bit at Mead, but the Panthers finished just behind Mt. Spokane in the competition held at Yakima.
âIt was really good,â said Campbell. “We definitely had our best performanceâ¦ overall it was a very good experience.”
For both groups, the Yakima competition was important enough that they failed to occur in the âBattle of the Bellâ soccer match between the two rivals.
Here again, the rivalry does not go further.
After missing a fall season, the Mead and Mt. Spokane groups joined forces last spring for what turned out to be the christening of the district’s new Union Stadium.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, members of the group were required to stand still.
âBut it was so cool to be able to join our sister school,â said Jordan Dubinsky, a senior member of the Mount Spokane Color Guard. “It was just a great sense of community.”
This sense of community will continue, players agree.
âAs a freshman I was playing with people who were better than me,â Garrett said. âNow I can help the subclasses. “