On a cloudy morning in Harrisonburg, Turner Ashby High School student Matthew Cosner was imagining standing in front of a massive crowd for the 36th annual Parade of Champions marching band competition.
Parade of Champions, held Oct. 19, is a competition among dozens of local and national bands. Hosted by James Madison University, the 15-hour event is held at Bridgeforth Stadium in front of a crowd of nearly 10,000 people.
“People kept asking me if I was nervous throughout the week,” said the 17-year-old Cosner. “Yeah, I was, but I think if you’re nervous a little bit, that helps you focus.”
As he was putting on his black uniform, gloves, and his 2-foot tall plume for the competition, he reflected back to when he was 8 years old, watching his two older brothers perform in marching bands in front of a stadium full of spectators. Cosner knew then that he wanted to follow in his brothers’ footsteps.
Nine years later, Cosner is the drum major for the Turner Ashby Marching Knights. As drum major, he stands on a podium and directs the wind and percussion sections of the band, making sure the two sections are in unison. The role comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility as the slightest mistake could throw off the entire performance.
Though he has been a Marching Knight since the eighth grade and has numerous live performances under his belt, the nerves and tension he felt before entering the stadium were undeniable.
After seeing a few members of the Marching Knights struggle to control their nerves as well, Cosner took it upon himself to give his squad a pep talk moments before taking the field.
“I told the band to go out there and be themselves,” Cosner recalled. “I told them to bring intensity, and be part of the music.”
Moments later, the anticipation and buildup reached its climax as the 52-member band took the field.
Hours of Preparation
Rob Nash, director of bands at Turner Ashby High School, emphasized the importance of practice.
“We practice every day, Monday through Friday,” Nash said. “We’re almost like a sport. I would actually consider us a sport, given the amount of time put into practice.”
Over the course of the 2013 competition season — which runs from July to the last week of October — the Turner Ashby Marching Knights have invested over 250 hours of practice, most of which were devoted to mastering the 7½-minute original performance that was conducted at the Parade of Champions event.
Nash, who has been the director of bands at Turner Ashby for 18 years, said the Marching Knights performed an original piece for the competition called “Sound, Shape, and Color,” which he metaphorically described as “the pen meeting the artist’s brush.”
The segment had an abundance of visual aesthetics that combined with the marching. Nash said a lot of time and effort went into perfecting the performance, given the enormity of the event itself.
“The Parade of Champions is the largest marching band competition in the area and surrounding states,” Nash said. “They had to turn a few bands away [due to capacity] because it was such a popular event.”
Nash said TA’s performance incorporated 80 change-of-direction movements in this 7½-minute span. It was one of the band’s most demanding, visual sets, requiring constant movement to capture the essence of the performance. The band had to remain focused and concise during this full concept segment, being careful to avoid even the slightest misstep.
Practice Pays Off
At the conclusion of the performance, the crowd gave the Marching Knights a roaring applause, which put a prideful smile on the faces of the performers.
“The students knew when they walked off the field that their performance was top-notch,” Nash said. “They absolutely performed at their highest level.”
In the end, all those hours of practice paid off. The Marching Knights finished third in their division — behind two schools that each dwarf Turner Ashby in student size — and won a couple of additional caption awards for “best visual performance” and “best music.”
“I was very happy with how we did,” Cosner said. “It really was the best show we have done to date.”
In total, the Marching Knights have achieved 16 awards in three competitions so far this season. While the awards and accomplishments are a privilege, Nash said the band is not defined by the amount of hardware earned, but rather improving on the performance from the previous year. It is all about improvement.
He adds that he will always remember this Parade of Champions performance and how his squad rose to the occasion and captured the moment.
“There are three shows that I will always remember during my time as band director — one in 2004, one in 2007, and this one. This show will always stand out.”
Cosner says there is also a special sense of comradery that is formed within the band after hours upon hours of being in each other’s company. He says the Marching Knights are like a second family to him.
“Going through high school, you develop a ‘family’ — if you’re involved with football, you grow up with your football ‘family,’ and the same goes with band,” Cosner explained. “Even when you go to a competition and you don’t place high, or when you’re down, there is always somebody else that will pick you back up.
“I love being in the band.”
Contact Matt Gonzales at (540) 574-6265 or firstname.lastname@example.org