COLUMBIA — As the sun ascended to its highest and most oppressive point of the day, a hundred figures stood at attention, their arms outstretched and fingers locked. They weren’t holding their instruments yet; that would come after a little more work on marching fundamentals.
“Your feet should be parallel, like you’ve got a pair of skis on,” Jeff White, the visual coordinator for the Rock Bridge Bruins Marching Band, called out. He paced the ranks of students in shorts and T-shirts like a commander inspecting the troops.
“We’ve been out here awhile,” he said, his voice carrying across the football field. “Focus past that. Know what we’re doing. Make it correct.”
It was day two of Rock Bridge’s annual band camp that began July 30. The camp goes for two weeks, eight hours a day.
“It’s tiring living and breathing band,” said sophomore Jessica Schlager, who plays the sousaphone. “I never thought it’d be that tough to stand still.”
All told, the marching Bruins are 115 strong, with 10 color-guard members, 10 auxiliary percussionists who play on the sidelines (known as the pit) and 95 others who march and play on the field. Band camp’s purpose is to condition the group for a grueling marching season.
“Stay focused,” band director Stephen Mathews called as he surveyed the marching block, the overall name for the formation. “Stay focused and that will be the difference.”
At his command, the band members froze mid-stride, one leg kicked backward, calves tight, torsos rigid. It was almost noon, and the sun offered no mercy.
Mathews is beginning his second year as director of bands at Rock Bridge and sees this year as a chance to build off of last year’s success. After winning the “Best Out-of-State Band” at the Echoes Off the River Marching Band Competition in Alton, Ill., and placing fifth out of the 21 bands that competed at the MU Champions of Champions Marching Band Competition, Mathews and his staff think their students are ready for more.
“There’s a sense of determination to do better,” Mathews said.
When he arrived last year from the State of California, his students were faced with a marching band style that emphasized form and technique. Mathews thinks that after a year of instructing, he and his group have developed a good rapport.
“The moment the kids come in the band room, they know what to expect and what is expected of them,” Mathews said.
Though the band’s first halftime football performance is still almost a month away — Rock Bridge versus DeSmet on Aug. 31 — and their first competition, the Odessa Marching Competition, isn’t until Oct. 6, its senior leaders are eager to get the season under way.
“You know it’s your last year, and you want to do your best,” said Fritz Laun, who leads the 10-member drum line. As section leader, Laun is the lead snare drummer and is responsible for making sure the two other snare drummers, five bass drummers and two “quints” — five-headed tenor drums — keep the beat going, which is critical for the rest of the band.
Laun thinks this will be his best year as a marching Bruin and sees Mathews’ desire to build the program through fundamentals the key that will make the difference in competition.
“We’re doing a lot more work on technique and details,” Laun said. “(Mathews) is going all out.”
Senior Will Schauwecker also wants to make this season count, switching from his familiar saxophone to the foreign trombone and making other sacrifices for the sake of the band.
“I decided not to play football so I could focus on music,” said Schauwecker, who played wide receiver for the Bruins. “A lot of people don’t know, they don’t see the work, the effort we put in here.”
Schauwecker sees the two-week camp and the Monday to Friday practices once the school year begins as necessary for success.
“We can learn the music and that way it becomes secondary while you’re marching,” he said.
Drum major Brittany Schlager said the show the band will take to competition, called “The Chase,” incorporates the dramatic score from the 2005 version of “King Kong.”
“It’ll be a push and pull,” Schlager said of the music. “You’ll be able to feel the pulse of the band and it’ll seem like you’re the hunted.”
Schlager and the other drum major, junior Kathy Trabue, have to put in extra hours to be sure they know the music and the drill from memory. They are also expected to be leaders for the experienced upperclassmen and a liaison for the incoming sophomores.
“We’re a buffer,” Trabue said, referring to the position of drum major. “We’re trying get (the sophomores) to focus, to have a passion for it. We’re trying to get them to care.”
Although Mathews expects to see his group do better at competition, ultimately, he isn’t thinking about winning.
“I want to see improvement over last year,” he said. “Every competition scores differently, but we’ll know if we did better.”
Mathews believes the hard work and practice the band is putting in will benefit them beyond the marching season.
“Valuable life skills such as teamwork, commitment and working towards a goal are byproducts of the marching band experience,” he said.
And he wants his students to come away from their marching band experience with a love for music. “We’re trying to make kids to be patrons of music, of the arts.”