"On the first day, these kids learn to march," said Maurice "Mo" Andreulo, one of the adult organizers of this year's camp. "They work all morning on their marching and their display during the shows."
This is band camp, that time when kids learn more than just marching, more than just music, but also how to bond with each other and grow into a solid performing unit - one that will move together as a single entity, flawlessly shifting from position to position as part of their half time and pre-football game shows.
This is the second year that band camp was held in Secaucus.
For Kyle Boyle, who is starting his second full season with the band as its director, band camp is invaluable because it allows students to work out all of the marching routines before the season starts. The kids can concentrate on learning and perfecting their musical performances. The kids that don't go to camp often have to play catch-up and cause the whole band's progress to slow as it waits.
"We got 43 kids this year," Andreulo said. "We wanted to get them all so that during the season they don't have to practice for the show."
The marching band, which won first place in its division during the 2002-2003 school year, performs at all the home and away football games, plus at least two competitions.
"We're hoping we get invited to Giants Stadium" this year, Boyle said.
"We have a morning marching block where we teach them basic marching techniques," Boyle said. "In the afternoon, we have them learning music. Section leaders are responsible for teaching a lot of the kids. Most of these are juniors this year."
Andreulo said they learned to march, then march with instruments, and then they learned to march as they play. "That's the challenge," he said. "So far [two days into the camp] they look pretty good."
Forty-one out of 45 students making up this year's Secaucus Marching Band managed to attend camp this year.
Boyle, incidentally, does his instruction barefoot. He said he likes the feel of the grass underfoot.
By teaching kids the drills at camp, Boyle said, he can concentrate on the music during the rest of the time - although the kids do much of the musical learning on their own. What he does is help them play together and coordinates the whole performance into a joint effort.
"We normally practice at the high school, but because of roofwork being done there, we're practicing here at Clarendon," Boyle said. "If the work isn't finished, then we'll practice during the season here or at Kane Stadium."
This is not easy stuff. The work at band camp starts at 8 a.m. every day for five days and ends at 4 p.m. "They take a break after that for two hours and then come back for the evening events like the square dance calling," Andreulo said.
Although the tradition of band camp goes back since the 1970s, this is the second year that camp has been held in Secaucus.
"We used to go away," Andreulo said.
Over the years, band camp has been held in places like Scranton, Strasbourg and Summit. While going to places in Pennsylvania had novelty, keeping the camp local is generally more comfortable and inspires a better turnout, he said.
"Kids get to work at the performance all day. At night they have activities, such as a square dance one night, a bowling night, even a softball game," Andreulo said.
The week concludes with a run through of the entire musical score followed by a Friday night party. This year organizers took the students for a trip to Great Adventure.
During the season, the band practices two or three times a week to gear up for the weekend games.
Some seniors gone, but juniors can handle it
Because a significant number of last year's band members graduated in June, this year's band remains a question mark - although even some of the younger students have been with the band for a long time. Leadership of various parts of the band may be in the hands of high school juniors this year, but many have been working with the band since seventh grade.
Of the students attending camp this year, "We picked up a few because people saw us here," Boyle said. "We lost about five seniors and have about 10 to 15 new people. But that's better than we were at the end of the last year, when we finished up with only 33 kids."
Marching band instructor Tom Tufaro, a high school teacher who also has significant background in drum and bugle corps performance, uses a guidebook map with dots on it, saying where people should stand and how they should move. Kids count off steps as they move from one position to another.
Nicole Hostettler, another veteran of drum and bugle corps, is a drill instructor who helps kids with the basic marching skills. Ed Marsh has worked with the kids through various incarnations and was this year's percussion instrument instructor.
The music this year is going to be more ambitious than ever before, featuring a marching band production of John DeMaiz's "Lord of the Rings." This is not a soundtrack to the movie, but an original composition that was written decades ago. The work was arranged for the band by Rob Fournier who performed the piece with the high school concert band last year.
"Last year, we did a show that was rock and jazz-based," Boyle said.
A family thing?
For section leader Tyler Andreulo, this is his fifth year at band camp.
"This is much more efficient this year," he said. "We get much more done here than when we're away."
He said he is looking forward to repeating the band's first-place finish in band competitions.
Although Enza Sasnarelli has been in the band for five years, this is only her second time at band camp.
"I was in the ninth grade last time I was here," she said. "I'm getting more out of it this time."
She said one benefit of the camp is the members learning about each other.
"It's more of a family thing," she said.
While she said it didn't matter if the band camp was held in Secaucus or elsewhere, she felt that the band accomplished more being home.
Astrea Greig, one of the few seniors in this year's band, has spent six years as a member. This is his fifth year in band camp.
"I think it is fun, and I like teaching and learning," he said. "We're the leaders. I like the fact that people are looking at us and reacting to our being here."
Eleventh grader Annette Slanina said this is her fourth year in the band and her third year in band camp.
"I enjoy the grounds here, and we get so much work done in a week," she said. "It gives us a jump start for the year."
For Jessica Just, this is her third year in band camp and in the band.
"You get a good feeling from the whole group and a big start," she said. "It is like a friendship. We get to know each other here."