The morning sun hasn’t topped the horizon yet as Hobbs High School band members straggle to a dark corner of the student parking lot where more than 200 of their classmates will be in crisp formation by 6:30 a.m. sharp.
Before raising instruments to lips, however, they’ll run in place and do jumping jacks to wake up and warm up in the cool morning air. They are, after all, earning a physical education credit for participation in band but perhaps should earn several given the fact they began this routine in July – weeks before football and soccer – and are the only “sport” practicing at this time of morning.
Mayra Negrete, a xylophone player and front ensemble leader, admits to some difficulty getting out of bed before the roosters five mornings a week but says music is her incentive. “We’ve been playing the same songs since July, but every time I hear them again, I get goose bumps,” Negrete said. “I like music a lot and knowing that other people like it as much as I do makes me happy.”
Indeed, happiness seems to be a theme when looking around the parking lot on this morning, the football field during Friday night halftime shows or even the HHS hallways during any passing period.
“When you’re walking down the hall and you see somebody from band, you’re never alone,” Negrete says. “We’re one big family.”
Big is the operative word. With an official count of 210 members, the group may be the largest high school marching band in the state. So big, in fact, that the entire ensemble no longer fits in the high school band room. Adding the Freshman High School band accounts for part of the increase but there also is significant growth in the junior high programs.
Band Director Rusty Crowe, now in his ninth year, attributes the band’s popularity to a strong and consistent staff. But it’s clear that Crowe’s hard work in the elementary programs is paying off almost as much as his contagious enthusiasm and love for music.
“Left, right and left, dah dee dah,” Crowe shouts through a megaphone as he puts the band through its marching paces on a grid that he and fellow band director John Duskey have carefully painted on the parking lot asphalt. Marathon practices devoted to tweaking moves, working on posture and mapping out snappy rotations has led to crowd-pleasing routines as well as outstanding competitive performances.
The band was one out of only seven finalists to receive a standing ovation at the Tumbleweed Classic at Denver City and it received straight superior ratings at a recent district marching band competition. Even more impressive is the latitude that Crowe and company give band members to come up with their own routines.
There are the “suicides,” for instance, that brass players perform on the sidelines during football games. The routine features trumpet and trombone players speedily twisting and turning as they alternately bow and stand, narrowly avoiding one another’s slides. The eye-catching act has been around for a couple years now but trombone player Daniel Gonzalez said he and friends added a new move after seeing it on You Tube.
He, Jeremiah Zamora and Devin Hutchins hold Alex Marquez and his drum set upside down as Marquez bangs out a percussion sequence while looking up at the stars above him.
“We practiced it for a while before we tried and everyone loved it,” Gonzalez said. “It felt amazing to get that kind of reaction.”
Creating an environment where kids feel amazing is why band is so important to overall education.
“We try to make it fun because we know that 52 percent of kids who aren’t involved in some kind of activity in high school drop out,” Duskey explained. “So even if they quit band, we try to get them in choir or something else.”
Jordan Said, one on a short list of juniros to ever earn the rank of HHS drum major, is all about the fun. But he also appreciates the skills he’s learning.
As one of nine students who auditioned for drum major in April, Said and his classmates received training in conducting, command calling and leadership. “It’s a lot different from when I was marching,” explained the saxophonist, one of three HHS drum majors. “A lot of what I did then was learning but now I’m also teaching. Music trains you to be very perfectionist, very selective. For me, it trains me to not settle for anything but the best.”
Which brings us back to the parking lot and that morning practice session, now entering its second hour. Joining the group at sunrise are Highland and Houston band members who will spend the next couple hours rehearsing Pretty Woman and Shake Rattle and Roll for a combined band performance during the Alamogordo football game.
“Upper classmen, get by one of the instruments from junior high and play along with them, show them how it’s done,” Crowe instructs through his megaphone. “Junior High, look around you – this is your high school band next year – and next year – and next year.”
One can only hope.