POWHATAN – The Powhatan High School Marching Band showed its mettle this month when it won Grand Champion titles on back-to-back weekends against competitors from around the state.
The band shone on Oct. 9 when it won its first Grand Champion title of the competition season at the 14th Annual Showcase of Bands hosted by Midlothian High School in the Class 4A-6A. That means it came out on top of the largest bands that competed that day.
The band kept that momentum going when it competed in the Godwin Marching Invitational on Oct. 16 at Mills E. Godwin High School in Henrico County and earned the title of Grand Champion Class 4A-6A.
At both competitions, Powhatan High School had the highest overall score of every band that competed, Director Andrew C. Snead said after the second win. He added that while he gets a huge thrill out of hearing the band won Grand Champion, he is most excited when the scores are shared the next day and he can see the nitty gritty of how well they are doing.
Snead, who came to PCPS as a band director in fall 2015, said the win is even more meaningful when he considers missing the marching band season in the 2020-2021 school year left a gap in instruction and experience for many of young students.
“To take a mostly young group and have this kind of success has been really fulfilling,” he said.
For both competitions, the marching band performed its 2021 program titled “Kingdom,” which features the symphonic music from Disney’s The Lion King by composer Hans Zimmer. Snead said the core show stays the same for the entire marching band season, but the band will also make changes between performances at home varsity football games and competitions.
“So if someone saw the show at the beginning of the season or even at our first competition, there is a lot more content packed into that now,” he said, adding that there were even tweaks made between the two shows where the band won Grand Champion.
In addition to the Grand Champion awards, the band showed at both competitions that its individual parts are as strong as the group. At the Showcase of Bands, PHS had the highest Music and General Effect scores of any participating band and won first place in Class 4A in the areas of Music, General Effect, Visual Performance, and Percussion and second place for Drum Major, Sydney Lee, and Color Guard.
“What made Midlothian so special was that was our first weekend with the full show on the field. Between rain and heat advisories and people being missing for quarantine, we just didn’t have an opportunity to get everyone in the full show until that weekend in October,” Snead said.
At the Godwin Matching Invitational, PHS earned first place in Music, General Effect, Percussion and Auxiliary; second place Drum Major and Visual, and first place overall Class 4A.
“A lot of the judges’ feedback was confirmation that we are on the right path – that the decisions we have made are working and we are moving in the right direction,” he said, adding there was also really helpful constructive criticism.
Sydney Lee, a senior and the marching band’s head drum major, said she joined the division’s band program in sixth grade and has been involved in different ways ever since. Now, the band program means everything to her, so the last school year was really hard without it.
“This is how I spend my weekends; this is what I do in my free time. It’s just everything that I am passionate about, so actually being able to do the thing I am passionate about again just makes me very excited to come back to school,” Sydney said.
Going into the first competition, Sydney said she was nervous because rain kept the band from practicing outside altogether with movements before their official performance. Rain was also a problem the following weekend, when she guessed they had about 20 minutes of practice time on the field.
“We were scared that we wouldn’t even be able to compete because we didn’t know the condition of the field. We didn’t know if we were going to be able to roll our equipment down there,” she said. “The fact that we barely got any practice and we were able to just review our music and our choreography and that we won Grand Champion is still surreal to me. But I am very proud of my (band) members for fighting through and achieving what we thought was impossible.”
LeeAnna Wilson, a junior and piccolo section leader, said she looks forward to marching band every year because she loves everything about it – the music, the choreography and the people. Although she has been involved with the PCPS band program since sixth grade and the marching band since eighth grade, she was nervous coming this year after a year off. She was relieved it all came back to her once the practices began.
Leading up to the competitions, she said she was feeling pretty good because of how well the band had been doing with the program. Still, not having the chance to practice on the field because of the rain and the sheer size of some of the other bands was a little intimidating.
LeeAnna said it took a few minutes after the announcement of their second-straight Grand Champion win for the impact to sink in for her.
“Once we got off the bleachers, went in the field and huddled up around the trophy, we were all hugging each other and screaming. That was when it hit, when it really sunk in,” she said.
The only downside, LeeAnna said, is that the season seems to be going by too fast.
In addition to the amazing students that make up the marching band, Snead credited a strong staff working together to help them continually improve: associate directors Nicholas Snead, Neil Landini and Ryan Richardson; assistant director/audio engineer Jabrond Gamble; Color Guard director Tony McCain; percussion staff Wyndell Wilson, Sam Fleming, and Ethan Spott; visual instructor Justin Kidd; visual designer Ralph Stewart, and program advisor James Stegner.
The marching band’s upcoming engagements are the Virginia Marching Band Assessment on Oct. 28 and competing at the Virginia Marching Band Cooperative’s State Championship on Nov. 6.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.