On Monday, October 8th, the Panther Band gathered in the pre-dawn hours and headed to Golden Gate Park. For the third year in a row, they were selected to compete in the 3rd Annual Band Challenge hosted by the SF Fleet Week Association. Eight high school bands from San Jose to Santa Rosa competed for over $30,000 in prize money. Each band would come home with a cash award, with the special privilege of performing with the 1st Marine Division Band.
The Panthers had the added pressure of defending their two-year run as first place winners. Noted in another Patch article from San Jose, one high school musician said, "If Benicia High is here, they'll win." It is gratifying to have the respect of other high school musicians, but the Panthers know that reputation is no guarantee for a win. The band fights hard at each event, in a world where every other band brings its best.
Just before heading onstage, each instrument was painstakingly checked with the tuner. “We play real music and we play it well,” said music director, Patrick Martin to his band during his pep-talk.
The band was not taking anything for granted. There was certain pressure to defend their title, and they needed to play their best because the field was hungry. Each year, every band is slightly ‘new,’ after having been re-set over the summer, thus giving all bands a fair chance at the prize. The announcer saw their game faces and commented on it as each Panther reached for their finest moment. It was the first time they’ve performed in uniform this school year.
They played three pieces: The first two were contributed by BHS alumni from 2008 and 2009. This set Benicia apart as the band who played pieces by past students. The first, arranged by Aki Ross ’08, was entitled Madrid by Eric Morales. It was a jaunty jazz piece which rolled out from the curved back of the music concourse stage, and was dispersed among our ears. There was visual detail as well. The saxophone and trumpet solos lit the stage. Then, the trumpet, trombone and flute sections all took turns sliding out sideways from the formation, playing at center stage, then gliding smoothly back into place like a virtual Rubik’s cube.
The second piece, Serendipity composed by Daniel Watabayashi ’09, was slow and graceful, full of gentility and reflection. The third piece, Alhambra Grotto is the band’s march for the year and was richly played.
All eight schools entertained with their discipline and routines. Always present was the fun associated with music and youth. It was very uplifting to watch kids who love what they are doing.
The Marine Party Band took the stage for superior entertainment. They handed off to the last group, which has always been the most moving moment. Ten students from each high school band gathered on stage to play the National March, The Stars and Stripes Forever, with the 1st Marine Division Band. The students understood the honor of sharing a bond with military service members who found a way to combine their love of music with service to their country.
In the end, Benicia placed third and brought home a very generous and much appreciated $4,000 prize from the SF Fleet Week Association. Former Secretary of State George Shultz and his wife Charlotte (who conceptualized this event), were there to hand out the awards. Since band programs are funded by family and community donations, awards like this are vital. It usually takes hundreds of parent and student hours to raise money. This time however, the Benicia students took ownership of their program and earned it doing what they do best: making music.
Santa Teresa High School had finished second to Benicia last year, but this year they were the first place winner. One of their parent boosters said, “The money will be used to replace an old sousaphone, which looks like it’s been run over by a car. And we hope to have some left over to replace some uniforms which are 20 years old.” A victory for any band program is a victory shared by all in the arena of the arts.
The third place finish enabled parents and students to focus on what the solid Panther program is all about. These musicians pride themselves on memorizing each of their difficult pieces. This is impressive when there are 10 minutes of music to perform. Rose Hogan, on piccolo, distinguished herself as the one who played her part from memory at Monday’s competition.
Another unseen quality of the Panther Band, is their philosophy about appearance. For example, there was no official inspection, yet every shoe was polished, every uniform straightened, every hem checked. The band believes each event is important enough to look top notch in uniform and attitude. They are in performance mode even before they put on uniforms. Whether they are playing music, tossing flags, sitting to watch competitors or standing still, they are aware of their presentation. They give standing ovations to winners, they clap for all names mentioned and they shake hands with other bands. They leave an area cleaner than when they arrived, and thank parents who work hard right alongside them. Alumni are usually present, as was seen Monday when five came to support, guard and move equipment.
As Mr. Martin said at band camp in August, “50% of my job is music. The other half is to teach them how to be responsible; to be good people; to give them life skills.” Competitions offer vital life lessons beyond trophies.
Mr. Martin was “pleased with how it all came together so well, with very intricate pieces, and I’m proud of them,” given that there was a short amount of time to prepare. His students listened to their competitors with attention and respect. They always stood proudly in the heat, fully buttoned, at attention, even when not performing music.
Drum Major, Troy Walker, dismissed his band for their one hour lunch break. He told them, “Go make friends.” The Panthers went forth, meeting students from the other schools. Overall, it was a very rich day indeed.
You’ll have a chance to enjoy their live music as they march in the Homecoming Parade down First Street on Wednesday night, October 17.
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