It was a crisp, sunny day Oct. 13 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford as the 40-member Weehawken Marching Band took the field for the seven-minute performance after hours and hours of rehearsal and planning.
Their dedication and hard work paid off, because they took first place at the U.S. Scholastic Band Association’s NJ State Championship’s Yamaha Cup. They competed against 60 schools from around the Tri-State area. It was the second year in a row they took first place, but this year their score was higher.
“It was an intense seven minutes,” said trumpet player and section leader Genji Nimura, 18. “We all work really hard to get where we are, but it’s really fun. Our motto is ‘Consistency breeds success.’”
But it was more than just consistency that won them first place, band leader Michael Lichtenfeld explained. Their performance theme this year was “New York, New York,” intended to evoke the sights and sounds of the city, including a drum solo to “Tactical Instincts” that proved reminiscent of the sounds taxis make.
“We are very close with each other. Like family.” – Nairobi Mesa
“The entire senior class came up with us,” 17-year-old Jonathan Anasa said. “It was a really great experience to be out there with all the people you grew up with. We really are a family.”
More than just band practice
The band functions like a single organism, and must do so in order to score so high, according to Ashley Carvajal, 18.
“It’s a great feeling when we win,” she said. “When you feel the music and you know we’re all together, it’s magical. There’s no ‘me,’ it’s ‘us’ all the time.”
It is this strong sense of togetherness and family that draws students to the band in all capacities. There are instrumental sections, color guard performers, and even a pit crew made up of between eight and 14 students, depending on the size of the event they must attend.
“I’m a helpful person, and I enjoy doing this,” pit crew member Joshua Saenz, 18, said. He’s been “picking things up and putting them down” (joked Joey Perez) since he was a freshman. But the joking was all in good fun.
“They’re as much a part of this band as any of the players are,” Lichtenfeld explained. “They’re the ones that keep the band running at peak efficiency.”
The two female drum majors also keep the band running at peak efficiency. Their job is to conduct fellow members and keep them in time, which is challenging when faced with 75 teen-aged peers.
“It was hard for me to yell at first,” drum major Hidaliz Pena, 18, said as the gathered band members laughed, which suggested she’s gotten past that hurdle. “Now I’m used to it, and even though the job is demanding, I love it.”
Her co-drum major, Nairobi Mesa, 17, agreed.
“This isn’t like other activities in school like sports or clubs,” Mesa said. “We spend more time together, and we are very close with each other. Like family.”
History of excellence
The band rehearses three days a week, with a Friday dress rehearsal to prepare for Saturday and Sunday competitions. They use the baseball field behind the Weehawken Pathmark, although marching bands generally perform on football fields.
Last year the band traveled to Disney World and marched down Main Street. This came not too long after they took third place – the highest award Weehawken has achieved in 20 years – at the U.S. Scholastic Band Association’s NJ State Championships last October with a score of 90.65.
In order to qualify for these events, bands’ scores are evaluated cumulatively based on their competition scores throughout the season, which generally number around six. They are judged on several categories, including music performance, visual performance, color guard, and overall effect. The key is, literally and figuratively, harmony between all the sections.
“All of them work so hard together,” Lichtenfeld said. “To pull it all off is a group effort, and when we go down, we go down together. We strive to beat our personal best each time we compete.”
The band will compete in three more competitions before they return to the State Championships on Nov. 3, and the day after they will hold their annual Band Festival at Weehawken Stadium. For more information, visit www.weehawken.k12.nj.us/weehawken/schools/WHS/band.html.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org