EMORY, Va. — Band members are putting their best foot forward this week as the Emory & Henry Marching Band gets a head start on the marching season.
The beat goes on for 85 Emory & Henry students — 27 of them are freshmen — who have arrived on campus two weeks before classes begin to practice from morning until night each day this week.
Giving up the opportunity to sleep late may not bother Parker Kitts and Sydney French, both senior band members who are on a band camp leadership team to orient new freshmen band members.
“We just finished up camp for first-year students today,” said Kitts last Saturday. “The potential of this group is really awesome. We were ahead of schedule for everything we did.”
According to Matt Frederick, associate provost and director of bands at the college, this year’s band students are very talented and bring a high level of discipline and professionalism with them.
“Two new students, Emily Blevins, who plays clarinet, and Alec Roberts, who plays euphonium, are Virginia All-State Band members, the highest individual band honor for high school musicians in Virginia. We also have more All-State audition-eligible students than any other year in the history of the band.”
Frederick said this is turning out to be a big year for the Emory & Henry Marching Band.
“In addition to our football game performances, we sponsor the Chilhowie Apple Festival Band Competition. We also are performing in exhibition at the Lonesome Pine Marching Band Competition.
“And then we will travel to Rome, Italy, to perform in their New Year’s Day parade.
“We had to go through an audition process, and we were selected to be one of two bands to represent the United States for this year’s parade,” Frederick said. “The students will have the opportunity to not only represent Emory & Henry in the parade but to experience all of the wonders and history of Rome and Florence.”
For now, the band is busy preparing for pregame and halftime shows for the first home football game on Sept. 7.
“Our pregame show features traditional Emory & Henry College music and marches, and it will end with a patriotic tribute to our great country,” said the band director.
“Our halftime shows this year feature music from the hit movie, ‘The Greatest Showman.’ All of the music for the halftime shows is custom-written for our ensemble, which is an exciting experience for our students.”
The college’s marching band, which was revived in 2015 after more than 50 years without a marching band, is a big attraction for high school band students who are looking for a college to attend.
Sydney French, of Chilhowie, has been a band member all four years and spent three as drum major. She also plays tenor saxophone during concert season in the spring.
“Band was something that really drew me to Emory & Henry. I’d always really liked band in high school, and it was something I didn’t want to give up when I came to college,” she said.
Parker Kitts, of Knoxville, Tennessee, said his experience in the college’s marching band has been “absolutely fantastic.”
Kitts is a music education major with a focus on instrumental music. “If the college had not offered a band program, I probably wouldn’t be here now,” said Kitts, who plays trombone in the college band.
“I’m three hours from home. Band is what really plugged me into the college and helped me make those connections four years ago.”
The college’s band members come from locations as far away as Atlanta, Georgia, and as close as Glade Spring and Meadowview.
“Our band is much larger than it was five years ago,” said Frederick. “With 85 members, that’s almost 10% of the student body.
“The biggest difference between now and when we started the band is that the level of talent that we are attracting is significantly higher. The band has grown and developed into a very fine ensemble that attracts a lot of very fine musicians from our regional high schools.
“We are continuing to strive to set the standard for bands within our athletic conference and for schools similar to Emory & Henry.”
Heading up the college’s first band since 1958 is really something Frederick can cheer about. The college has always had a pep band to play in the stands at football games — but no program to put on the ambitious halftime shows marching bands are known for.
“It is a great privilege to be able to work with young people in an environment that they are so passionate about — being in a marching band.
“Giving students an opportunity to earn a college degree while doing what they love is a wonderful thing to call your job.”