By Errol Castens
TUPELO – They’re intense and dedicated.
They endure the heat of summer and the first chills of winter to perfect their performance.
They live for the chance to step onto the football field and show what they’re made of.
They’re the bands.
Students representing 30 high schools from across Northeast Mississippi performed Saturday in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Region I Invitational Marching Classic held at Tupelo High School. Many – probably most – had performed the previous night at football games and worked on very short sleep but seemed nonetheless excited to be there.
“I love band; I love music,” gushed Holly Hurst, a trumpet player with Booneville High School.
“Marching is the best part,” added fellow trumpeter Katie Beth Cole.
Saturday’s performances were required for MHSAA standing, but some of the participating bands already have been to other competitions.
Lesley Shields, one of the event’s organizers, has seen band from both sides of the music stand. Band director at Milam Elementary and assistant director at Tupelo High, she also played and marched her way through high school and college and knows the work and time that band members invest – and the work, time and money that their parents and boosters give to make it happen.
“As with any team sport, you’re working for the goal that the group can achieve and you can’t achieve by yourself,” she said. “You’re bettering yourself as a person by working together as a group, and sometimes it just feels good to do this for your school.”
Some students also see band as a ticket to college.
“All the universities and community colleges in our area have great band programs,” Shields said. “You can see the directors of most of the community colleges in the stands out there.”
Okolona High School band director Brenda Cole sees the sacrifice that kids make to participate in band.
“They love music. They love being a part of a team,” she said. “Band is a chance to be a part of all that.”
She noted that as a school with funding challenges, her students had only recently received their uniforms and had confined their performances thus far to the stands.
“This is their first time on the field this year,” she said.
Each band warmed up in one of three practice areas acoustically isolated from the football field, then performed at 12-minute intervals at mid-field. Its performance was graded by three judges who were isolated from each other.
“For some bands, this is the only competition they’re coming to, and they get evaluated,” Shields said. “This is a requirement if you’re part of MHSAA.”
Saturday’s competition in Tupelo – one of five around the state that day – will determine which of the region’s bands go to state competition on Nov. 2, but the results won’t be known until they’re compiled and posted early this week on www.msbandmasters.com.
Meanwhile, students will remember their appearance before a most appreciative audience, largely of other band members, leaders and boosters.
“I felt nervous at first, but when I started playing, I got over it,” said Jessica Hill of Okolona High School. “Band is fun because you get to go places and play an instrument. Music is my life.”