Every band hopes to end their season on a high note. That’s exactly what the Appomattox County High School Raiders Marching Band—otherwise known as “The Best Band in Appomattox”— accomplished in their final competition event of the season.
On Nov. 3, the Raiders traveled to Sanford, North Carolina, to compete in the Brick Capital Classic and finished in first-place in each category including Music, Marching, General Effect, Drum Line, Drum Major and Color Guard. They placed first in band Class 3A with a Superior Rating.
There are five rating categories in high school band competitions: Superior, Excellent, Good, Fair and Poor.
What surprised band director Bryan Allgood the most was the Excellent Rating the Raiders received in their first competition of the season at Goochland. The band finished in third place overall, a significant accomplishment considering the fact that 25 of the 65-member squad were rookies, including seven members in the seventh grade. More than 20 seniors graduated from last year’s Grand Champion team.
Goochland was the first-ever competition for approximately half of this year’s band, according to Allgood, who was expecting 2018 to be a rebuilding year.
“The kids far surpassed the rebuilding year status. This was one of the most successful years in the program’s history,” Allgood said.
Allgood credits the hard work of the students for exceeding expectations. There was nearly 100 percent participation at every practice. Practices, which are held three times per week—four on football game weeks—were extended by an hour. Allgood said that about 95 percent of practice time is dedicated to competition and halftime performance, and the rest consists of “The National Anthem” and pep music for games.
“What the audience doesn’t see is the blood, sweat and tears that go into that practice,” Allgood said. “Students get burned out, they get kinda down on themselves, they get upset when something isn’t going right. But it always comes together by Saturday.”
The show theme changes every year, but is performed throughout the season with different elements added each time.
This year’s musical score is entitled “Midnight Moon,” an original piece composed by Scott Gordon. Gordon, who helped teach the piece to the Raiders, is the current band director at Cumberland High School and former director at Powhatan High School. He does composing on the side and was commissioned by Appomattox to write the music, his second piece created specifically for the Raiders.
“Midnight Moon” is based on a true story about a cat owned by Gordon, as explained by Allgood. The cat, named “The Huntress,” would stay outside to prowl around at night. The composition is divided into three layers: evening descending, the moon rising and the hunt. The tempo varies between fast and slow pace and builds during the hunting phase.
The full performance is completed in about 10 minutes from set-up to finish, but an abbreviated version is done at football halftime shows, the length of which depends on time constraints.
The band competed in two other competitions during this season. At Lord Botetourt, they finished with the second-highest score in Appomattox County High School history (90.1) and a Superior Rating. They finished first-place in Music, Marching, and in band Class 2A while receiving a Superior Rating as the Runner-Up Grand Champion.
At Powhatan, the band finished second-place in Class 3A with a Superior Rating and a first-place finish in the Music category.
Allgood said the students seem to thrive on competition in an atmosphere where they are attempting to out-duel at least 18 to 20 other bands. Winning makes it all the more satisfying.
“Kids take a lot of pride in being able to compete and beat other schools from Central Virginia and around North Carolina,” Allgood said.
Allgood also emphasized that while most students don’t continue in a musical career beyond high school, the experience gives them practical skills to enter the adult world well-prepared to work with people of different backgrounds and personalities.
“We run our marching program like a big business with young people being entry-level employees working for a common goal,” Allgood said. “And then we have section leaders as the rookies’ bosses and section bosses, and then all the way up to a CEO being a drum major of the band.”
The most satisfying part of the experience for a band instructor, according to Allgood, is observing the baby steps of improvement throughout the year, which the students themselves might not even realize.
“The experience for me as a teacher is probably different than the kids’,” Allgood said. “Each week for me, I get to see the band get better and better and better, and they finally blossom at the end of the season - where they don’t see that and I’m seeing that as a director. We got better from day one all the way to the very end this year.”
It takes more than a band director and willing students to make a marching band successful, as Allgood acknowledges. It means an effort from others in the school district as well.
Middle school principals make sure the students make it to practice at the high school, high school principals assure the band has a place to practice, and the superintendent and school board work to obtain funding to purchase instruments.
Allgood expressed his thanks to all who make a difference in the success of “The Best Band in Appomattox” - a sentiment undoubtedly shared by members of the Raiders Marching Band.
“I’d like to thank the school board for their support in getting us instruments,” Allgood said. “The superintendent - thank her for her support - and the principals and assistant principals, as well as the band boosters and the parents.”
Those who have not yet heard the band’s performance of “Midnight Moon” may have another chance this season. If the Raiders varsity football team advances far enough into the 2018 Class 2 playoffs, the band will have another chance to shine.
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