Hidaliz Pena, the senior drum major in Weehawken High School’s state champion marching band, danced around her drum line and horn section at the 50-yard line of the Louis Ferullo Stadium, holding an enormous trophy over her head.
There was ample cause for celebration. She and her band mates had just concluded their final performance of the season, the grand finale of Weehawken’s fourth Annual Weehawken Invitational Band Festival.
“We just did a great job,” said Pena. “We really got the crowd into the rhythm and the beat. They knew the songs!”
The band’s program was titled “Sights & Sounds of New York,” and included such recognizable favorites as “New York, New York,” “Take the A Train,” and “Harlem Nocturne.” Lasting around 15 minutes, the performance came complete with set design and complicated flag twirling and drilling from the color guard and drum line, respectively.
A promise fulfilled
It was a bittersweet moment for Pena and the band’s nine other seniors, as well as the three from the color guard and two who work on the band’s equipment crew. Most of them have been playing in the band for four years, and joined the same year as their band director, Michael Lichtenfeld.
“Even though he’s strict, we really love him,” Jessica Nunez, a trumpet player, said of Lictenfeld. “I remember freshman year we promised him we’d win state by our senior year.”
And win they did. The band was crowned New Jersey’s Division 1-A state champions at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands earlier this month, after winning first place at another competition, the Yamaha Cup, in October. But Lichtenfeld said that the four-year-old arrangement with the team was not exactly as Nunez described.
“I told [the band four years ago] that if they listened to me and worked hard and consistently, then we could win state in four years. And we did.” – Michael Lichtenfeld
Their arrangement was certainly laudable. Lichtenfeld, along with his assistants Tim Galan, Michele McCormick, George LaVelle Jr., and Thomas Mulvaney, brought the idea of doing a New York theme to the band’s section leaders, who immediately got on board.
“[The program] was a fitting end to our season, I think,” said Lichtenfeld. “It was tough, but we brought it to the band and they absorbed it up like sponges. And then they executed.”
Senior Nairobi Mesa, who plays bass drum and backs up Pena as the assistant drum major, said that it took some time after they began practicing the songs to get the hang of the arrangement.
“We’ve grown as a band, our consistency has gone way up and we’ve become a more united sound since then,” said Mesa.
Following the performance, seniors such as bass drummer Rafael Totesautt and trumpeter Samir Patel described it as “crisp” and “full of energy.” Genji Nimura, another trumpeter, said the performance was indicative of the band’s motto, “consistency breeds success.”
The motto was initiated four years ago by Lichtenfeld, soon after he promised his then-freshmen that he would guide them on a path to glory. It seems that the path ended here on their home turf, on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon.
“I’m lucky to have such a tremendous group of seniors,” Lichtenfeld said. “I wish them luck in whatever it is they’re doing next year. Their leadership led us to victory.”
Other bands which performed on Sunday included Paramus Catholic, Garfield High School and Waldwick High School. Union City High School’s band was scheduled to perform, but dropped out mere hours before the festival was slated to begin.
The full list of Weehawken’s marching band’s seniors includes trumpeters Genji Nimura, Samir Patel, Jessica Nunez, saxophonists Julian Perez and Kassandra Marrero, baritone horn player Jonathan Anasa, drum major Hidaliz Pena, drummers Ben Agostini, Dayanira Arroyo, Nairobi Mesa and Rafael Totesautt, color guards Ashley Carvajal, Clarissa Santana and Larissa Ledo, and equipment crew members Josh Saenz and James McCall.