"It's really been amazing," said George Haviland, who has been the school's band director for the last 24 years. "I've never seen anything like it. The kids all put the time in to get ready for this year, and the hard work has really paid off with these results."
Two awards in one night The band's winning ways began Oct. 1, when they participated in two competitions, at South Brunswick High School during the day and at Hasbrouck Heights High School at night.
"It was a lot of running around that day and it was crazy," Haviland said. "We performed at South Brunswick at 5:15 p.m. and then had to be at Hasbrouck Heights to perform at 8:15 p.m. But we did it."
At South Brunswick, North Bergen came away with first place among the Group 3A classification and then the entire Group 3, encompassing 14 other bands. They loaded up the bus, sprinted up the New Jersey Turnpike and went to Hasbrouck Heights, where they had more of the same success, defeating all seven other bands in the Group 3 class (which is designed for bands with 50-to-80 members).
The band was also awarded trophies for first place in music and first in percussion for their three-song set, entitled "Latin Extravaganza."
The songs, which were selected last May and have been diligently rehearsed ever since, were a merengue tune called "Mr. Papi," a ballad from the movie Zorro called "Diego's Goodbye," and a peppy, rhythmic number called "Estancia."
After winning two competitions in one day, the North Bergen marching band members were hard at work a week later, entering a competition at North Brunswick High School. Sure enough, the band won the Group 3 title and finished second overall among 11 bands from all over New Jersey in the competition.
Finally, the band recently competed at the prestigious Bergenfield High School competition, with 16 bands from all over the area, including Paramus, Dover, Tenafly, Park Ridge, River Dell, Middletown North, Linden, Watchung Hills and Westwood. At Bergenfield, the band won first place again in music and percussion and were named the Best Band of the Day.
Secret for success Haviland said that the success stems from making changes in the organizational structure during the past year. "We made some members section leaders, which are like team captains in sports," Haviland said. "So this way, these section leaders were responsible for certain areas of the band, and that change really seemed to work." Haviland said that he introduced the music to the members of the band early on, so they could rehearse and master the music.
"We kept preaching that they had to treat the rehearsals the same as performances," Haviland said. "It turned out that we had the best rehearsals that we have had in my 24 years. The kids were focused and ready to work." Some were even taking on dual roles.
For example, prized flutist Jessica Bobea was now being asked to be a leader among the drum majors as well. So it meant that Bobea would play the flute during a solo in the song, "Mr. Papi," then drop the flute and head to the platform to conduct the rest of the band through the final two songs of the set.
"Running back and forth did get a little tiring, but I was still able to play," said Bobea, who has earned several Teen Arts competition honors for her excellent flute playing. "I run back and keep conducting. I manage to do it."
Senior Josh Echeverria plays the alto sax. He's also thrilled to be receiving accolades that were never before reached at North Bergen.
"It's been amazing," Echeverria said. "For the last three years, we've been trying so hard to get to this level. And now, to think where we are and the achievements we've won, it's been great. It does take a lot of hard work, dedication and time, but all that sacrifice has paid off."
Echeverria said that he felt that this band could achieve higher plateaus.
"We've had so much confidence this year," Echeverria said. "You could sense the changes in the entire band. No other band in the school's history has been able to do what we've done."
A chance to go even further The North Bergen marching band isn't about to rest on its laurels. They will head to the All-States competition in Allentown, Pa. on Nov. 6 with a chance to compete against bands from all over the Northeast, states like New York, Connecticut, Virginia, Maryland and of course, New Jersey. Fifteen bands in all will compete and based on past performances, North Bergen is currently seeded fourth in the competition.
"The best we've ever done at that competition is fifth (in 2000)," Haviland said. "I think we can do better than that this time. I'm so happy for the kids, because they deserve this with all the time they've put in."
Haviland, who is assisted by music director Brian Bonacci, visual design director Bob Cardaneo and music assistant Michael Connor, said that a major key has been the work of the color guard, aided by new color guard coaches Nicole Mink, Laura Barbieri and Evita Gutshtyn.
"They've really made a difference in us," Haviland said.
"We're looking forward to the All-States," Bobea said. "There will be a lot of good bands there, so it's going to be hard. It gets tiring sometimes and it's a lot of work, but we're having fun."
"We just want to keep getting better as time progresses," Echeverria said.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.