Panther Band braves heat to honor the brave

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

The sun is high and the reflection off the pavement is blinding. The metronome seems to count beats slowly, marking time and making practice seem a little bit longer like a slow ticking clock.

The Panther Marching Band has felt the temperature rise to above 90 since practice began at 8 a.m., and as the 100-plus musicians near the end of the morning, this is the time where success is made.

“The last hour and a half is probably the toughest because the sun is up overhead, there’s not as much shade and it is just getting hotter and hotter,” said junior Sarah Saint. “You can say this is where I fix my mistakes and learn what I’m doing or I slack off and don’t pay attention and just go through the motions. It’s a really critical point in the day.”

For two weeks the Panther Band is out on the parking lot marching all morning, and in the band hall all afternoon, working to make sure every move is in step and every note is right for this year’s program.

“It’s pretty grueling because we’re out here for several hours and there’s a lot of heat,” said senior Karlie Bye. “Even with the frequent water breaks the heat is on us and then hitting us again from the concrete.”

But even as the end of morning practice draws near, all attention is focused on the tower where questions and directions rain down, testing just how focused the musicians are.

“They really have bought in this year,” said Band Director John Perrin. “We have a system, we have a process for teaching this stuff and if the seniors coming back are not bought in and helping the new kids out it doesn’t really matter.”

The upperclassmen know that leading and teaching is as much their responsibility as the instructors. And they focus on maintaining morale in the challenging times.

“We make sure everyone knows what they’re doing right and what they can do better and that they are going to do better,” said junior Breeley Bodine. “We try to keep them happy.”

To show up and put in the work in the summer heat means true dedication and investment.

“We try to keep things lighthearted and take breaks,” said senior Alex Urben. “But there’s no gray area once you’re here,”

Perrin is proud of the leaders who have stepped up as the band grows.

“Our leadership team this year has been great,” he said. “They want it to be as good as it can possibly be. They’re self disciplined, which is something you can’t really teach. You can work on it over time, but these kids are self motivated, self disciplined and they care and it translates to everyone in the band.”

This year’s theme, “Home of the Brave” is extra special to both instructors and students because of the message it sends.

“The music that we play is going to give you a sense of how beautiful America really is and the kids are really on board with that theme so we got good buy in on that this year, too,” Perrin said. “The freshman kids have come in ready and the upperclassmen have been putting everything they have into it.”

Honoring veterans and showing their patriotism is something Urben said the students take very seriously.

“This is one of our most important years,” he said. “It means a lot to everyone, it’s ‘Home of the Brave’, it’s honoring veterans and I think the band knows it’s special and we take the music very seriously this year. We know it has to be perfect to be like we want it to be.”

They may be finding the music a little easier to learn and play, but that only raises the performance expectations.

“Everyone is saying it is so easy (to learn),” said senior Karlie Bye. “But once we get it down and put it out on the field we will be able to blow people away with how good we’ve gotten from marching and working on the music.”

Amid all of the sweat and exhaustion, coping with the heat and repetitiveness of learning and repeating four measures and a handful of steps over and over, Urben said the payoff is indescribable.

“I can’t explain that euphoric experience of finishing your first run,” he said. “It’s the best feeling in the world. After all this grinding through practices it is just amazing.”

That applause from the crowd is affirmation, a sign that it was all worthwhile.

“When we finish, and everyone is standing and cheering it is like this load off your shoulders,” Bodine said. “You just know you did it.”

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