The Marching Eagles
Eastern High School Band Prepares for New Season
Writer: Julie Engelhardt
Photographer: Joanna Katsikas
While most high school students are fast asleep during the morning hours of summer break, there’s a group of teens whose vacation is over by mid-July. This isn’t the football team running plays or AP students getting a jump on physics or algebra by hitting the books with a tutor. They are the 130 members of the Eastern High School Band—the Marching Eagles— located in Middletown.
Summer break is the perfect time for the band to start preparing for their fall season. From August, when school begins, until the first weekend in November, they participate in football game halftime shows and travel to band competitions both locally and to other states. In order to have a seamless show, they start working in July on their program at a two-week band camp. The first week they alternate days, either attending from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Week two is ‘hell week.’ They work Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m with a break for lunch, and then a dinner break, where the band’s hospitality crew provides food for them.
The summer days are hot. The musicians and color guard members are tired and sweaty. Their bodies ache and their feet are sore. But they push through the day, becoming better with each passing hour. They’re learning blocking, dance moves, music. The guard learns how to twirl, toss and manipulate colorful flags much bigger than they are. They need to know how to hit their mark when the music plays. Fourteen instructors are used during camp, teaching everything from fundamentals to music pieces. At the end of their two weeks, the entire corps presents a showcase for family and friends. It’s just in the beginning stages, it isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely an exciting start to their season.
One member who’s experienced band camp for five years is Drum Major Matthew Pridemore, a senior from Jeffersontown. He began as an 8th grader and has continued on through the years, not letting the long days and hot weather discourage him from rehearsing. He’s a versatile musician, playing trombone, bassoon, baritone and euphonium. In 2017 he became one of two field commanders/drum majors and continues on this year for the 2018 marching season. Pridemore loves being a part of the band.
“I like the family environment we have,” he says. “I enjoy the friendships that come as a part of it. It’s also challenging and I like a good challenge.”
“Band is an amazing thing for young people,” says Matthew’s mother, Karen Pridemore. “It is a great way to help them be involved in a school activity during and after school. Music is a way for young people to express how they feel.”
The band had a stellar year in 2017. They were presented with five Grand Championship awards out of the six competitions they attended. This is the best they’ve done since their band director, Mike Arthur, was hired 19 years ago. Their Winter Guard program was awarded Tri-State Champions this year as well. Arthur is very proud of his students and their impressive accomplishments. He says, “Oh, it’s so much fun. It’s always so much fun when you see your students work hard, achieve their goals and be happy with the product they’ve produced.” For his leadership during the 2017-18 year, Arthur was presented with a proclamation from the Mayor of Middletown, and May 20, 2018, was declared “Mike Arthur Day.”
It takes several people to create the band’s program. Show designer, Michael Gray, from South Carolina, is responsible for creating the flow and the idea behind the show, ensuring it all goes together smoothly. If he feels a band can bring his story to life, he will design for them. He’s designed Eastern’s shows for the past two years: “Apotheosis” in 2016 and “The Memory Palace” in 2017. This year’s show “Divination: The Future is Now,” was also created by Gray. Besides hiring a show designer, the band uses drill writer Matt James. It’s the responsibility of the drill writer to create the ideas for the movement on the field. Music arrangement comes next, with the band using Evan Van Doren, from Cedar Park, Texas.
“The basic premise of “Divination” is trying to find out what the future is going to be — looking at the stars or trying to see what’s in the cards,“ Arthur explains. “As the show progresses, the story turns towards the students — ourselves — we are the future. There aren’t stars you can look to or cards you can turn. You decide your future and the track you’re going on. It’s ultimately up to you.”
The band will compete in a variety of different circuits during their marching season.
“We compete at KMEA (Kentucky Music Educator Association) competitions,” Arthur says. “We compete at mid-states competitions, at Bands of America and at US Bands. It all depends on the season what we do. This year we’re going to a Bands of America regional, which we haven’t done for two years. We went to Toledo in 2016, and this year we’re going to Miami University of Ohio. We’re also doing US Bands in Chattanooga.”
He says he selects competitions based on the judging panel they have.
“If I feel they are strong educators and give me and our students and staff the feedback that we need to continue to improve what we’re doing, then I’ll go to competitions where the judging panel can help us hone our craft and make us better,” Arthur says.
After nearly four months of practice and performing, the marching season concludes in early November. Yet, that doesn’t mean their work is done. Although they no longer spend long days and weekends rehearsing and traveling, they are preparing for their concert season.
We’re preparing for all-county and all-state auditions which happen after marching band is over,” Arthur says. “We can’t ignore the concert portion of their playing.”
He explains that the students become great musicians in the band room and on the stage and that teaching them to be musicians is the most important part of their education.
“We make sure they can play their instruments sitting down long before they can play their instruments standing up,” he says.
The winter and spring season consists of the Concert Band, the Symphonic Band, a jazz band and two pep bands. The All-State program begins in February, plus solo and ensemble performances, and in March they have their concert festival preview concert, the concert band festival and then a full spring concert in May at the school.
The year winds up with a pops concert at Wetherby Park in Middletown that’s open to the public. This past year the pops concert included pieces from Disney movies, including “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Incredibles,” and “The Lion King.”
The band has an impressive resume which includes performances in the Pacific, the north and the south. They appeared in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in 2007, at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City in 2010, at Carnegie Hall in 2015 and at Walt Disney World in 2016. During spring break of 2019, they will be heading to San Antonio, Texas to participate in a concert band festival with other schools from the southern states.
“I teach music not to make better musicians but to make better human beings,” Arthur says. “Winning is not about a score or placement, it’s about the feeling you have when you leave that field or stage. It’s about changing lives one performance at a time.”