Due to the ever-famous quote “and this one time at band camp” used in the popular film “American Pie,” almost anyone who hears the words “band camp” aloud tends to smirk. The underlying humor of this quote however, may not apply to the Pride of the Mountains marching band.
Western Carolina University’s yearly version of “band camp” is known for being both painstaking and severe. It is safe to say, this marching band is no joke, and certainly no laughing matter to those who participate.
After allowing an entire spring semester and full summer break to pass without students setting foot on a football field, how is it possible that these 300-plus students can pull off such a spectacular marching band show that is performed within a matter of weeks? The answer is simple: band camp.
This month, the Pride of the Mountains will be hosting the 2009 WCU Camp Catamount band camp. It began with a Rookie camp on Friday, Aug. 14 and is ending after seven full days of continuous work tomorrow, Friday, Aug. 21.
Notorious for having over 350 members at one time, The Pride of the Mountains has truly been an aggressive, breathtaking, and ear-shattering band of many passionate bandsmen for several years.
The meticulously planned band camp not only prepares its hundreds of returning veterans for an entirely different and innovative marching show, but it also introduces over a hundred new freshman bandsmen to the program in just a few days time.
If you are familiar with the WCU campus in the fall, you most likely have seen the Pride of the Mountains marching band rehearsing on the band field several times a week. You may have even stopped to watch at some point. While this band may be tremendously entertaining to watch, the truth of the matter is, the intensity of which these musician’s work could never truly be captured at an afterschool practice.
“I personally feel that band camp is the most important part of the season, especially here at WCU,” said returning Tenor saxophone player and section leader, Keith Marwitz. “The things that we can accomplish during band camp amaze me.”
Students may achieve many things during their weeklong camp, however, the continuation of afternoon practices is what keeps them motivated and fit. While the bands performances at the football games appear very glamorous and flashy, the not-so-glamorous routine practices, taking place two hours a day-three times per week, is what keeps the marching band in tip-top shape to perform three times at every WCU home football game of the season.
However amazing the band may be, a seven full days of continuous marching fundamentals and music memorization is bound to take a toll on its members.
“Band camp has long hours and extremely hot days,” said Marwitz. “The best way to make it through camp is to be in the best physical shape possible. I also make sure that I practice my saxophone and even begin to learn the music as soon as I receive it.”
It is not solely the members that prepare for camp and it’s tiring demands, but also the many staff members including the directors, the staff coordinators, all section leaders, and of course, the drum majors that conduct will the band.
“Preparing to be a drum major in the ‘Pride of the Mountains Marching Band’ is not easy,” said returning drum major Kristin Beesley. “Physically, we must work out as much as possible over the summer to prepare for the extremely strenuous conducting. We are expected to study our scores, and prepare ourselves to conduct in front of the band without looking down at the music.”
While all Pride of the Mountains staff is essential to the band, band camp is successful thanks in large part to the assigned section leaders whose responsibility is to teach every member of their musical section every skill and technique needed for the season, and they must teach this all during the duration of the camp.
“Being responsible for 10 other people is something that I am not used to, said Marwitz. “My biggest challenge this year is that I will be a section leader for the first time. Learning the music so that I can teach it to the other members in my section is something that is going to challenge me.”
While hundreds of veterans prepare for the expected continuation of music and marching fundamentals, the incoming freshman attempt to prepare for a week of camp, while not knowing what to expect.
“In comparison to my own high schools band camp, WCU’s will be way more intense and people will take it seriously and work hard,” said incoming freshman flute player Katherine Erlichman. “I know it will be a lot of hard work. I’m sure that the expectations will be slightly higher. Other than that, I’m not too sure what to expect.”
Not only are these freshmen embarking on brand new college experiences, but by becoming a part of the Pride of the Mountains, they are also walking into an entirely different world of devotion and expectations that the marching band requires.
“Band camp will be the first part of my college experience,” said Erlichman. “I’m really excited about being around an awesome group of people who love band as much as I do. Although, I am a little bit nervous.”
The 2009 WCU Camp Catamount will extend over a period of seven days. The camp hours will consist of a combination of drill rehearsals taking place outdoors, band rehearsals taking place indoors, sectional rehearsals both indoor and out, uniform fittings, part placement auditions, professional pictures, staff meetings, full band meetings, and even performing at the freshman convocation in front of all the incoming freshman at the end of the week.
“As a returning veteran, I know what it is going to take to survive band camp,” said Marwitz. “You must wake up early, and make sure you are at the field before practice starts. At every rehearsal you must have music, coordinates, your instrument, water, sunscreen, and definitely a positive attitude!”
The camp will be focused entirely on the teaching of the drill and music of the upcoming Fall 2009 marching show called “Born to be Alive.” The variety of soon-to-be performed songs is promising, with an impressive line-up that will include songs by Kanye West, Maroon 5, Black Eyed Peas, Michael Jackson, Pearl Jam, Motley Crue, the Bee Gees, and more.
At the end of a long seven days, despite the heat, the exhaustion, the sunburn, and the sore feet, every member of the band seems fulfilled with what they can accomplish in a weeks time. In addition to the learned skills, the members tend to bond with one another during camp. This, some might say, could be the part of band camp that makes it all worth it.
“Band camp is a time where a huge group of people who do not know each other, become best friends by the end of the week,” said Beesley. “As members of this band we come out of the first week before school with 300 friends, where most people not involved slowly gain 3 or 4 friends by the end of their first week of school.”
“Band gives you plenty of time to get to know your other band members, and it is by far the largest amount of time the band as a whole will get to work together,” said Marwitz.
Despite the bonds of friendship created through marching band, you still may wonder why these “crazy” band students tolerate the heat and the continued practices that follow their band camp. We can’t be certain of what drives each individual student, but we do know that if each member is dedicated enough to endure such a camp, then they can most likely manage the entire season rather efficiently.
So next time you want to laugh at the thought of band camp, remember the Pride of the Mountains marching band and what they willfully endure in their excruciating seven days of labor. Remember that these students share bonds, passion, and sweat all for the love of being a great musician and entertainer. If you look at band camp that way, you may find that you have a newfound respect for your fellow band geeks.