While they haven’t previously been known to thrive during the competitive season, the Wilson High Marching Band looks set to reverse that trend and bring some gear home this year.
Wilson participates in the California State Band Championships, a member organization of the Southwest Music Education Association. It was launched in 2007 to try to unify the many marching bands competitions in the state. They judge on musical, visual and drumline performances after separating schools by the size of the competing group. This means that the Long Beach Unified School District has schools in multiple divisions.
Last week Wilson finished second in Division 2A at the regional competition hosted by University High in Irvine. The Bruins’ three-moment piece Artworks received the highest score for the musical performance and percussion section.
âWhen I started with the Wilson group, it was the lower level group in competitions compared to other groups in Long Beach,â said Wilson Drum Major Justin Vassanta. âCulture was much more dramatic than the pursuit of musical excellence and performance. In recent years, we have changed a lot.
The next regional is November 6, the semi-finals on November 13 and the national finals are scheduled for November 20. Each group’s score in each round determines their ranking for the next round.
Eric Messerschmidt has been the Wilson group manager since 2002 and knows he has a special group this year that has overcome a lot of adversity.
“I can’t say enough about my seniors this year,” Messerschmidt said. âThey really brought in an energy that was great. It is the strongest student leadership I have ever had. They have a great musicality and a great passion to lead the group and see them excel. “
It starts with Vassanta who started his first year as a member of the clarinet section and rose through the ranks to become the drum major as a senior.
âHe basically teaches with me because he’s such a good musician,â Messerschmidt said of Vassanta.
âBeing in the group taught me what it means to have real joy,â Vassanta said. âThe band members trust me and I can see how much work and dedication they put in. Seeing that helping them develop good characteristics is what really brings me joy.
As an assistant to the drum major during his junior year, Vassanta had to deal with the culture change of the Wilson group during Zoom meetings during the COVID-19 shutdowns. He wanted to give his classmates something different to work on, so he put together a video where everyone played their instrument alone and he mixed it all up.
âWe still had things to practice and play during the year online, which I think was also very helpful in bringing everyone together and helping us come back strong like we did,â he said. declared Vassanta.
âIt was very difficult,â Messerschmidt said of COVID. âYou really can’t do what we do online. Many children cannot play the trumpet in their family’s apartment. It was difficult and a real challenge.
When Vassanta took over as drum major during summer camp, he was able to continue his positive momentum while adjusting expectations and overall organization to the music teaching schedule and schedule.
âStarting from scratch (after COVID), we were able to start with the culture of being more mature and performing better,â Vassanta said. âThis mindset is really what made the practice. We put more effort into everything. There has been a huge improvement in terms of our performance and this is particularly surprising given COVID and most groups have worsened over the past year. “
âTheir enthusiasm for them to be back after their absence has been enormous,â Messerschmidt said of Vassanta and other leaders like Drum Captain Hudson Rose. âHaving them keep tabs on everyone to get back to where we were in 2019. Not only are we back, but we’re probably a little better and it’s gratifying. “
Rose, who can play multiple instruments, said the instructional part of her job was her favorite aspect.
âWhat I want to do is teach or do music composition and I can do all of that with the drum line,â Rose said. âWe start from level zero to the best players. Watching them grow not only as drummers, but also as people, is worth spending the countless hours of practice.
When Wilson’s drum line took first place in Division 2A, Rose figured it was because of their attention to detail.
âWe have a certain way of training and we stick with it,â Rose said. âIt’s very precise in everything we do. Everything from the height at which we lift the drum sticks to even the expressions on our faces. We get to the heart of the matter with small details. We are also very close as a group, which strengthens the bonds between us and helps us to play together. We are all best friends and like a second family. It all helped us get this truly amazing award.
Vassanta added that the whole group feels this connectivity which is only stronger after COVID.
âThe music has given me so much and all the members of the marching band who struggled in school,â Vassanta said. âBut (the band) made me feel at home. We prefer to be there than anywhere else. It made me stay. I wasn’t going to continue playing without it.
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