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Playing through hell

West Ranch High School marching band drills for ‘heist’ performance

Posted: August 8, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 8, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Janice Youn, center, and members of the woodwind section of the West Ranch High School Marching rehearse music from the "The Heist," as well as their choreography on the school's football field in Stevenson Ranch on Wednesday. Photo by dan Watson.

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The midday sun Wednesday shone on a collection of brass instruments stacked carefully on the sidelines of the football field at West Ranch High School.

On the field itself stood dozens of students, binders in hand, lined up in carefully orchestrated rows.

Backed by the harsh electronic beep of a ticking metronome, the students move into action.

Counting together they begin to move, their steps timed to the beat in unison.

For now, the students need only focus on timing, breathing and movement — but as time progresses the process will become more intricate as instruments stacked on the sideline make their way into the hands of their players.

The students on the football field Wednesday were part of the 133-member West Ranch High School Marching Band, each there to drill, rehearse and get themselves in top performing shape during the school’s band camp.


The camp is two weeks long, according to West Ranch Director of Instrumental Music Jason Marshall, with students practicing and rehearsing multiple times a day.

“It lays out the framework for everything we’re going to do this year,” Marshall said of the camp.
And what West Ranch hopes to do is no mean feat.

This year’s theme for the marching band performance is “The Heist,” the plot of which entails students trying to break into a vault and steal a diamond, Marshall said. 

The theme is set to a collection of music ranging from original pieces to the song “Diamonds” by pop singer Rihanna.

Across the Santa Clarita Valley, similar band camps are being held at high schools as students prepare not just for half time shows, but also for competitions around Southern California and sometimes beyond.

Like football, band is serious business at local high schools.


While band camp is a crash course for all involved, it can be a rude awakening to newcomers.
“A lot of the freshmen know nothing about marching band when they start,” Marshall said.
For West Ranch it is especially necessary for the freshmen to catch on this year, Marshall said, as they make up about 50 of the band’s 133 members.
“It’s difficult for the freshman marchers,” Marshall said. “We give them a lot of information to process and they do an amazing job with it.”


West Ranch senior Spencer Pierson, who plays alto saxophone, can remember what it’s like to be a freshman starting out.

“I didn’t expect there to be as much physical activity as there was,” Pierson said. “Between that and the marching, it took me about two years to feel like I had everything down.”

Megan Molinar, another senior who plays the clarinet, said even now getting in performing shape can be an arduous task.

“We have to run about a mile every day when we start,” she said. “People may think marching band is really easy, but it’s really not.”

Wednesday’s camp took place in relatively cool weather, a far cry from last year when temperatures reached scorching levels exceeding 100 degrees.

“It was brutal last year,” said Marshall, who has been at West Ranch for nine years. “It was probably the hottest band camp we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

Regardless of what the weather is like, members of the marching band are expected to keep up the pace.
Even breaks for water, which Marshall calls “splashes” or “gush and go’s,” are brisk, with students jogging to and from their bottles.

“They earn a P.E. (physical education) credit from doing this,” Marshall said of the physical workout as band members practiced the timing of their steps. “And we make them earn that P.E. credit.”

And all, the work put in before school starts is necessary for the marching band to be ready to compete and perform.

“It’s not just marching in a parade, and it’s not just going out and spelling ‘WRHS’ at halftime of a football game,” Marshall said. “There’s a big artistic element to it.”
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