West County: School band wins with high-tech Christian show
Posted: Saturday, November 16, 2013 2:00 am | Updated: 9:50 am, Thu Nov 21, 2013.
Annapolis Area Christian School’s Golden Marching Eagles surpassed a benchmark in its competitive history this year, earning second place for its Christian-themed show in Group 1 Open Competition at USBand’s 2013 National Championships.
It is the best the band has performed in its history at the competition, which was held Nov. 2 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. The highest award they had received in previous years was fifth.
Band director Mike Shaner said his goal is to glorify Jesus through every musical performance, without being offensive to spectators in the crowd. He came up with the Christian-based theme of this year’s show, “A Light Within the Darkness,” which explores the struggles of good versus evil throughout history.
The band performs Christ-centered shows alongside more traditionally themed high school marching bands, which distinguishes them from the other school bands.
“We’re the only Christian school competing in a public venue,” Shaner said. “We’re unique.”
A new element was included in this year’s performance — the addition of a high-tech electronic sound system has enhanced the reach of every instrument in the band, from horns and woodwinds to percussion. Shaner purchased the system last year in time for the 2012 Bands of America competition held in the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, and he is glad he made that investment and he believes it made a difference at this year’s national championship.
“The audience loved it, and (so did) the judges. We had the right balance of hammer — hammer meaning color of sound,” Shaner said.
A new participant also helped to strengthen this year’s tight-knit marching band — home-schooler Abby Parke.
The freshman from Ellicott City suffers from arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, a condition which causes muscle shortening that inhibits mobility in the affected joints. However, Abby does not view herself as disabled or different from any of her fellow band mates.
“The impact the band has had on me was huge. It has opened a lot of things for me, like my love for music and it strengthened me physically,” Abby said. “Without marching band I would probably be too shy to do new things. I probably enjoy the relationships the most — they are practically my family. But I also love the music and learning the instruments and the instructors.”
The school encourages Christian home-schoolers to participate in their group because they believe in facilitating the educational value of music. Abby is the first disabled home-schooler to participate in the school’s band program.
“I am floored by the hospitable, loving community at AACS that has embraced her as one of their own,” her mother Lita Parke said.
Everyone in the Golden Marching Eagles welcomed Abby’s arrival.
“We had parent volunteers that worked to give Abby ease of mobility to get to her instruments and be an integrated part of the program. At no time did she stick out as ‘that child with a disability.’ She was treated just as any other student with support and dignity,” said marching band parent Rhonda Keagy, who is in charge of band operations.
By adapting equipment and transportation, Abby became an integral part of the band, under the tutelage of percussion instructor Mike Ranelli and middle school band director Joann Wenger. Staff members taught her how to read music and play the timpani, an instrument purchased specifically for her unique abilities.
|Mr. Shaner speaking to two brand new members|
of the band who are homeschooled, Rebekah Lynner
& Abby Parke.
“I believe Abby made the band stronger, and we made her stronger,” Shaner said.
Drum major Dominique Hinton said Abby is an asset to the group.
“I love the fact that she was able to get out there and interact with everyone and no one treated her different,” Hinton said.
Because of her condition, Abby has difficulty standing for long periods of time. However, during the lengthy awards ceremony at the 2013 national championships, Abby chose to stand with her band mates. “It was amazing,” Shaner said.
Preparation for the high school marching season begins each summer with band camp and evening practices to learn drill formations and music. By September, members are active in daily after-school and Saturday practices for field and squad sections. Students even practice on Saturdays.
Tournament season begins at the end of September with the band performing locally at high schools and in regional and state tournaments at larger stadiums. Each week, more dynamics are added and fine tuning takes place. The annual national championship is the culmination of the Golden Marching Eagles’ season.
Behind the scenes, it took two trailers to carry the equipment, which includes seven large banner props, pit instruments and sound system equipment. Eighteen uniformed pit crew parents ensure the band gets on the field for every show.
“They’re the powerhouse,” Shaner said. He leads a team of five staff members working with 39 students, including 12 color guard, 26 band and pit members, and drum major, Hinton.
The band’s cumulative score of 90.1888 was just 0.062 points behind first place, New Jersey’s Haddon Heights High School. AACS also came away with the award for Best Effect because of its exciting formations, props and field drama in performing its show.
Hinton enjoyed this year’s show best because of its clear theme. And she pointed out the trophy the band took home was much taller than she was.
For information about the Golden Marching Eagles, visit www.aacsband.org.