COLUMBIA — At around 6:45 a.m. Saturday, befre the first beer is cracked open and the scent of lighter fluid escapes the charcoal grills at the tailgates surrounding Memorial Stadium, a group of 25 high school students will ride in a bus, quietly tapping their feet and checking their watches.
They are waiting for their chances to shine.
The students are band members from South Callaway High, a small school located 50 minutes away from Columbia in Mokane. They, along with at least 16 other high school bands in Missouri, are traveling to Columbia to perform with Marching Mizzou in celebration of Band Day.
The bands will march and play several songs with Marching Mizzou during halftime of the MU-Illinois State game. But the excitement will begin much earlier than that. The moment they step off the bus, they will begin rehearsing the tunes they’ve been working on for weeks with the entire ensemble.
It will be like no other rehearsal they’ve ever experienced. When the bands merge there will be more than a thousand high school students in addition to the 280 members of Marching Mizzou. The sound will likely be more remarkable and louder than anything they’ve ever heard.
“They are so excited,” said Kim Neighbors, band director at South Callaway High and a Missouri grad. “I think a few of them are a little nervous, but they think it’s pretty cool.”
The halftime show will be in front of the biggest crowd that most of the high school students will ever perform for. That’s why Sarita Magno, also a Missouri grad, signed her students up for Band Day the first year she became the band instructor at North Callaway High, a rural school 20 minutes east of Columbia. It was three years ago, but she remembers that first experience as sharply as a High C blaring from one of her student’s clarinets.
“It was actually our first performance of the year before any of our home football games,” she said. “Watching the kids get out there on Faurot Field in front of a crowd of tens of thousands versus the home crowd of a couple hundred, the experience they went through with that was a lot of fun and really neat to watch.”
Working for the students
As enjoyable as the event is for the students, Band Day wouldn’t be possible without Michael Knight, the band director of Marching Mizzou. His preparations for this year’s event dates back to the summer when he decided what music would be played, the theme (this year it will be patriotic in conjunction with Salute to America), which high schools are attending and how to best get them to Columbia in one piece.
It’s a lot of work. But seeing the expressions of the high school students as they walk out onto the field in front of more than 50,000, Knight said, makes it all worth it.
“We’ve talked to high school students after (the performance), and they say it’s one of the greatest experiences of their lives,” he said. “That’s what makes it special.”
Knight’s enthusiasm for Band Day spreads to the members of his band. Jenny Davidson, a senior piccolo player, looks forward to the event every year. She said she enjoys meeting the younger students and encourages them to continue playing once they graduate from high school.
“It’s exciting because we’re all out here practicing together,” she said. “We kind of talk to some of the kids and try to get them interested in (joining) Marching Mizzou.”
Chris Barchesky, a senior drum major, will wake up at 7 a.m. Saturday to the sound of his alarm clock. But that’s assuming he actually falls asleep.
“I don’t sleep a lot on Friday night before the football games because I’m just that excited,” he said. “I’m ready to get up. I’m ready to be here for the football game. It’s just that much fun.”
Barchesky remembers the feeling he got the first time he performed at Faurot Field as a clarinet player three years ago. It’s a feeling he still gets now, a feeling he’s certain to get on Saturday, and a feeling he can’t wait to share with the high school students.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “You step out for that first football game and it’s an experience that you will remember forever. (Band Day) kind of gives those kids the opportunity to have that experience.”
That’s why Neighbors’ students will be boarding the bus early Saturday morning, their eyes half open and their throats sore from performing the night before.
“It’ll be a big weekend for us,” she said. “We have a football game here (in Mokane) on Friday, but they’ll be ready to play with Marching Mizzou in front of such a large audience.”