PDT Staff Writer
The Portsmouth West High School marching band is ready to hit the turf this season, with a show that Director Mike Pierce says will prove they are not, as he calls it, a “hot dog band.”
“I always tell my students that if they see the crowd getting up to go get hot dogs while they perform, we call that a ‘hot dog band.’ If that would occur, that is on me and my design team, because we have not got an exciting show that people want to see,” Pierce said. “Fortunately, the last five years that I’ve been here, West has not been a hot dog band. People stay in their seats, because love us or hate us, you wanna see what we are doing. This year, I think, will be no exception.”
The show West has prepared for this season is based off of classic jazz musician Louis Armstrong’s million-selling song “What a Wonderful World.” The iconic jazz song was written by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss, was first recorded by Armstrong in 1967, and was the best selling song of 1968. The show is in three parts and is titled “The World.” Thematically, as they perform it, the songs pay tribute to the sky, the Earth and the sea.
The show’s original music was written specifically for the band and is loosely based off the best selling jazz number, with the whole show built around the reminiscence of the classic tune. Pierce said he tries to choose a show and theme that is in favor of the band’s strengths each season, and the jazzy Armstrong show was a given, since he has very strong brass and percussion sections this year. They also have a surprise prop they plan to unveil during on of their home games.
“Only in our second selection of our show do we actually play ‘What a Wonderful World,’” Pierce said. “This is typical of specifically written shows. We don’t actually use his music, it is just reminiscent with certain chords and melodies.”
The song selections will be much like the jazz and swing that Armstrong is known for, while a modern twist has been added to make the show more electronic. This is to make the show more appealing for the students and during football games. Pierce said he always tries to push for what is current and the added keyboard line-up on the sidelines does just that.
“Even if some of the students might not have been familiar with this genre of music, we’ve had enough success with the team that I’ve put together that they trust us. They know that it will be cool in the end, so let’s dig in and do it,” he said.
Ashley Eldridge, senior, has been in band for eight years and is putting her trombone down this season to be field commander. Pierce praised Eldridge for stepping into the role for the first time this year and said she has provided a lot of leadership. Music has been a big part of Eldridge’s life and she plans on joining the Portsmouth Orchestra when she graduates high school.
“It [the show] is really exciting. The drill seems more difficult than usual and I really like the music,” Eldridge said. “There are a lot of tempo changes and dynamics in this show; there are a lot of hard places in it. I think everyone will love it; it is a real crowd pleaser.”
Eldridge has high hopes for their show receiving positive reviews at competitions this season. She said if the band keeps up the momentum and hard work, a superior rating at state is not our of the question. Regardless, she said that she is already proud of the band members she has gotten close to over the past eight years.
“I like that marching band isn’t a typical sport.” Eldridge said. “It requires a lot of thinking and brain power. I also like how close you get with with band. You’re with them so much that they really become another family away from home.”
Continuing in the direction of competitions, West plans to attend several this year, while also hosting their own. This year’s competition schedule is: home, on Sept. 28 at 11 a.m.; Dawson Bryant, in Coal Grove, on Oct. 5 at 11 a.m.; Ohio State University, on Oct. 12; and at Ironton, on Oct. 19. They also plan on state finals this November.
“My goal for competition is that my students use it as a learning experience more than anything. Winning little, wooden trophies is always a nice bonus, but that isn’t what music is about. All of my students learn to read and play music before anything else,” Pierce said. ” I am in the music education business after all.”